As I wander life in search of meaning, I frequently have to call on a mysterious entity I call The Wise Man. He is essentially a manifestation of epiphany, wisdom in the form of a human that helps me to … UNDERSTAND. Often his help comes in times of personal need, other times he magically appears while I am delving into the cores of human interaction … those deepest of concepts that will make or break our future. Seeking that collection of words to share with a thousand plus others (#1000Speak) on the UN World Day of Social Justice, words that hopefully will impart meaning and understanding to others, I found the need for The Wise Man’s insight again …
I was flipping channels the other day in the usual search for something of value to watch. As often happens for channel surfers. especially those who do it quickly, the partial sentences and words on each station seemed to form a dialog of its own … channel surf speak. Sometimes this phenomenon can be entertaining in itself, especially in those odd moments when a theme of sorts presents itself. For whatever reason, as the “news” channels, infomercials, “reality” shows, dramas, and odd religious programming, passed me by, one concept seemed to keep popping up.
My thumb clicked away, and each time it seemed the universe was again trying to tell me something, in the form of a word … a powerful idea. Yet for some reason, many of the times it started taking shape as the channels flipped by, it lacked a certain level of sincerity … an essence of not quite “getting” it. The campaigning politician used it in reference to ongoing war, and it was as if it was a totally different word on his lips. The world-renowned preacher used it to raise money for his ministries, and it was if he had reshaped the idea to his own meaning. The famous actor used it with dramatic intensity, yet it seemed so … well … scripted. It became evident to me that somebody maybe did not really understand the amazing concept that is compassion. The question … was that someone ME or those random voices on the Digital Soap Box?
Apparently a new quest was in order.
I shut off the Digital Demon, and put on my Questing Clothes and my Face of Curiosity. Where to start? How about the dictionary. I turned to another one of the Digital Demons (who uses paper dictionaries any more?) and came up with a starting place … an official definition:
A straightforward definition, yes. But as often is the case with life changing concepts … wholly inadequate to my mind. Sometimes the powerful tool that is words are simply insufficient for true understanding. This definition LACKED something. The imp in me said the definition lacked … well … compassion. Time to find out what the “experts” had to say.
I went into the opulent building of worship, and asked the Holy Man “What IS compassion?”
Without hesitation, he said “Following the word of God,” as he handed me the collection plate.
It did not ring true to me.
“What IS compassion?” I asked the eloquent Government Man as he postured for the press.
He slid money into one pocket, and directed a soldier to attack THOSE innocents because they “might” be dangerous before answering, “Making the world a better and safer place for all!” he said with an eyeless smile.
I managed to get a meeting with a Lord of Commerce. “What IS compassion?” I asked.
“Weakness!” he said with authority. “An excuse for the needy to try to take my well-earned wealth!” Then he brushed me aside to direct the advertisers on how to make the company look like it “cared”.
Obviously he did not know.
“My reason for being,” said the Idealist.
“Feeling sad for those less fortunate,” said the Happy Homemaker.
“Only for those who deserve it,” said the Cynic.
The answers were endless. Some seemed to truly have a grasp, others just catching a glimmer, or missing altogether. Yet I still was not quite grasping it myself. I continued to wander, asking those willing to answer and adding their definitions to the growing picture. Yet I was still not quite there. I found myself in one of those places where the currents of the world meet. A walled off community, obviously one with stature. On the other side of the wall, slums, looking almost war-torn. Many passing, some allowed through the walls, some looking at the walls with envy, others simply passing by, in their own world, resigned or uncaring of the walls. A constant flux of motion, an interaction of many parts that on the surface seemed very different. But all shared one common trait. They all passed by, scorned, looked with pity at, ignored, feared, fled from, flung vitriol at a single figure. A being clad in rags, sitting against the wall. Dirty. Aromatic. Scarred by injury or disease.
The figure held out a hand, and reactions differed. Disgust. Civility with apology. Turning a blind eye. Occasionally an exchange of small funds. But always brief … a quickly forgotten interaction.
A family group, with kids of varying ages came along. They were laughing and playing as they rambled along. One little girl, nibbling on a cookie, ran ahead and looked at the figure with curiosity … a curiosity that was returned with a surprisingly bright smile. Older children said stinging words, laughing with derision and making faces. A mother said sharply “That is not nice!” to the culprits, yet dragged the little girl away. “Stay with us!” Politely but with an air of concern. The figure’s smile faded a little as the street prepared to return to carefully nurtured oblivion.
The childs eyes remained on the figure though, unable to look away. Suddenly, she darted from her mother, back to the figure. And with a giggle, she offered the figure a bite of her cookie. The smile brightened again. Polite denial, followed by the hand out again. Soft words, another giggle, and the child offered her own hand, to the apparent displeasure of her family and others near. With a bit of a struggle, lessened by the little girl’s hand, the figure got to its feet, and went to the bus station, boarding the bus that just arrived. Off to live life elsewhere.
As the figure boarded the bus, another familiar figure passed, exiting the bus. The new figure paused to give the ailing figure a hug, then continued off the bus, to pat the little girl on the head, telling her now flummoxed mother “There lies the hope of our future!” Then he turned to me.
I realised it was the Friendly Neighborhood Wise Man. “You have a question for me?” He said, knowingly.
“What IS compassion?” I asked, excitingly awaiting the answer I KNEW he had.
“I can’t tell you.” He must have noted the disappointment I felt with that answer. His air changed subtly, in at first an indefinable way. “I CAN show you though. Actually you just witnessed it.” He indicated the little girl.
Suddenly I got it.
The indefinable way he was speaking was itself compassion. And I understood. Compassion is like love; like spirituality; like enlightenment. Something not to be defined by words, but defined by action. And each and every one of us has to choose that definition for ourselves. Yet it is also a necessary component for the healing of humanity. No one, no one at all, with a hand out for aid should ever be left grasping air.
THAT is compassion.