This post was originally published by The Finger Lakes Times (NY) as part of the weekly series, “Denim Spirit.”
When we live our lives with the elasticity of a bungee tethering our passions to our compassion, we will likely encounter joy and know happiness regardless of our relative affluence. But sever our passions from the well of compassion within us, and no matter how much security and comfort we have, joy will be a stranger and any happiness frustratingly shallow.
The word ‘compassion’ is derived from the Latin, comapti that means, literally, to ‘suffer with.’
Now there is a battle cry or political creed never heard these days: “Suffer with one another!”
Imagine if it was? Wow, how much different would the public and private discourse be? Compassion would not in itself change political perspectives about how much or what kind of government to have, but it would allow for a mingling of passions in search of common cause. Instead, what we have today, is merciless, brutal passions with a single-minded interest in dominating others.
In the field of sociology, it has long been understood that any strategy for change that focuses only on increasing the forces to coerce change, will only succeeds in increasing the opposing forces against change. The more effective strategy includes some attempt to also reduce the forces against the change, not just defeat them. To be successful with that effort, hearts and minds need to be influenced so that the way of thinking about something is changed.
Compassion is the key.
To feel with others their desires, hopes, fears, insecurities, and discontent is to understand them on an entirely new level. When we willingly enter into the realm of our compassion toward those we vehemently disagree with, we also become vulnerable to seeing the world as they see it. That means we may well be changed by the experience of feeling with others what they feel. That is also what makes compassion scary to us.
Sometimes compassion is not enough.
Sometimes, with some people, in some circumstances, to move forward only on the basis of compassion is to get squashed. We can truly understand a person’s suffering, but the value of that understanding is questionable if our compassion only leads to them abusing us further. Compassion untethered from our passions is suicidal, just as passions disconnected from compassion is homicidal. So where does that leave us?
It leaves us on the brink of civil war. If the partisan leadership of each party, and those of us who support one or the other, are unable or unwilling to reassert compassion as a critical element of our political practice, there will be violence.
Rhetoric is cheap – cheaper than it has ever been with the current President and Congress. We should judge our politicians by their political behavior, seen and unseen. Is what they are doing an effort to hold in tension the passions of their constituents with compassion toward their opposition? Or, are they simply trying to obliterate the opposition, crush them once and for all? It is not whether they sound nice while aggressively seeking to decimate the opposition, but are they truly engaged in bi-partisan efforts to discover common cause?
If not, boycott them – vote for someone else or don’t vote at all. To do otherwise, I fear, is to contribute to civil war.
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