Lately though, I've wondered, was she really a monster of consummate selfishness? Was she all that different from most of us? Or just more honest?
Before I continue, let me make one thing clear. When I use the word "compassion" I am not referring to the impulse that prompts us to donate to charities. Nor am I talking about being part of some group action to address hunger, racism, illiteracy, or some specific disease.
What I am addressing here is compassion on an individual basis -- i.e., how we respond to a friend, neighbor, relative or co-worker, etc., who is going through a rough time.
I belong to a group called "Getting Old and Grumpy." Last time we met, we talked a little bit about a phenomenon called "blaming the victim." You know how that goes. If someone has a run of bad luck, it's because they somehow brought it on themselves:
They didn't have a positive attitude;
They were reaping the consequences of bad karma;
They didn't accept Jesus Christ as their lord and savior.
If we're honest, we'll admit that we all, at one time or another, have found reasons to justify our lack of compassion toward someone who is suffering.
I said if we're honest. The one true thing I know for sure about human beings is that they are fundamentally inauthentic. I did not make this up. I learned it during a weekend, several years ago, when I participated in an event called The Landmark Forum. Since then, everything I observed about other people and about myself corroborates this fact.
The dictionary definition of "compassion" does not necessarily imply empathy. Yet, it is empathy, primarily, that weighs us down, compels us to imagine what the afflicted person is actually feeling to the point where we come close to suffering along with him or her.
At the same time we feel GUILTY for having escaped the same or a similar fate. Why him? Why her? Why not me instead? In our hearts we know it's mostly the luck of the draw.
GUILT, of course, can be useful if it inspires one to become a better person. More often, though, its crippling influence only serves to make things worse.
To escape GUILT, we take refuge in denial or in blaming someone else -- including, of course, THE VICTIM. Thus, we are prone to distance ourselves with false or irrelevant justifications:
"She brought this on herself;"
"God is punishing (and/or testing) him;"
"I don't have time for other people's problems."
If we are religious, we follow the Golden Rule.