The other day I was sitting in a Toyota dealership waiting for an oil change at 7:30 in the morning. This was a prime opportunity to get some serious thinking done. So, being the only one in the waiting room, I turned the early-morning cartoons on the waiting room TV down, popped in some thinking tunes a la Thomas Newman, and began my daily ritual of deep internal contemplation I began to jot down abstract ideas and very quickly formulated a fairly concrete thought/opinion on the topic of compassion. Now I shall share it here…
As a youngster in a fairly conservative religious environment I was embedded with a strong set of values and morals that were mostly good in my opinion. I was incepted with ethics and etiquette on how I should behave in this world. I learned, mainly through the actions of others, how I should treat other people. And for the most part these were all exceptional values. However, as I a grew up I started to notice something that nearly all groups of people do; that is they generally show compassion, love, and empathy for people only in their respective groups – be it a religion, team, nation, political party, etc. This is natural though so I would by no means accuse anyone of being groupish, because that’s just how we human-type roll. However, the notion that I sat contemplating in the waiting room of Toyota was that we should go beyond these natural boundaries of groupish to show a love that is deeper and much more profound.
So as I was growing up I learned a lot of religious rules as a kid, some of them no longer apply – which is interesting in itself – and some of them are still strictly enforced. One of the things I have always struggled with since as long as I can remember having an opinion as an individual person was the realization that people can be a little hypocritical and live by a few double standards. I’ll raise my hand as the first guilty party here, but I try my best not to. Anyways, this problem is unavoidable as far as I can see in that we’re humans. So I’m not here to preach or condemn anyone. However, I would like to serve a reminder about a universal moral (I say universal because this principle is really at the core of all serious religions) to show love and compassion toward people. This compassion, I feel, should be a universal one. A compassion that is not restricted to a certain group, social circle, nation, religion, or political party. This is hard though.
Of all the important things that Jesus the Christ himself said when he was ask which of the laws was the greatest (greatest – that’s a sort of a terminal adjective in that there is nothing greater beyond it). He, Jesus, said to love God with all you’ve got, and the second greatest – like, right underneath the first…so close, in fact, that it is “like it” – is to love your neighbor as yourself. *Side note, I’m going to assume here that you aren’t taking the word neighbor so literal as to mean the house next door*
Then he, Jesus, said that all of the laws hang on these two commandments. So, without these two there is nothing to hang anything else on. Without love there is no other rule or law that can be valid or greater; those who build a religion or way of life on rules, regulations, or cultural/societal-specific values pale in comparison to these top two bad boys. Well now there I go sounding like every other preacher guy proclaiming the importance of love, but I have one further point to make here.
I think many times we often forget that this love should extend to everyone, even our mortal enemies. I feel strongly that we should show relentless compassion and empathy toward individuals who are like us and unlike us, who have the same values and morals and those who don’t, those who are (in my case) a Christian and those who are Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, or Atheist. Because we tend to fear and sometimes mock what we cannot (or sometimes choose not) to understand it is our nature to criticize those things we don’t fully grasp – let alone something that runs contrary to our values. But if there is one overlying principle that I’ve gathered throughout my years as a Christian it’s that wise actions often are the ones that run contrary to human nature – spot check me on this by skimming through Proverbs. When someone upsets us we are naturally inclined to lash out, defend, attack, and all those types of things when in fact Christianity tells us to do the opposite. It is utterly a-human of us to turn the other cheek and to pray for our enemies. This notion of unnatural behavior should be realized and practiced as often as we can. Which brings me to my main thesis, our love and compassion toward others should go beyond that which feels natural to us, and should be unconditionally displayed. It is human nature to accept and embrace people who are similar to us, who share similar religious values, similar political outlooks, etc. That’s easy, there’s no thinking involved in that. It’s when we are faced with something, someone, or an idea that causes us moral dissonance, which runs against the grain of our personal values and those of our respective groups, that we are faced with the task of doing what is contrary to our nature, to put our true character and quality of our kindness to a test.
A while back I was having a conversation with my parents about the death penalty and what acts deserve death. I gave her a completely unrealistic situation in which she was the judge and jury of a man who committed an absolutely heinous crime to one of her children, and I asked her how she would choose to handle this man. Most people might say that if a person, say, killed their child that they would instantly demand the death penalty – that’s natural. Then I proposed that in light of the Christian principle to show kindness, forgiveness, compassion, and love in contrary to our human urges that in situations where we are driven by our most primal instincts to condemn someone with hate, and in some extreme circumstances with death, we might be presented with the ultimate opportunity to demonstrate true unconditional love by showing mercy. In my experiences so far in life I’ve learned that doing hard things are the things worth doing. Waking up and going to work is easy and expected. Going to graduate school twice was/is hard. Showering, pumping gas, texting, etc. are all no brainer day-to-day things. Training for a marathon is hard. Likewise, there is not much reward in waking up, getting gas, and texting. Yet, there is quite a payload when a couple degrees and a few marathon medals to hang on a wall. The point is doing what’s easy and expected like loving your neighbor who is like you and believes like you is easy, but showing equal love and kindness toward someone who is your enemy is hard indeed.
Finally, I would propose that we not only show boundless and unconditional love to those who are not like us, but to do so without buried contention within us or with an expectation that we receive a gold star for good moral behavior. It’s like giving just to get – where’s the authenticity in that. Finishing a marathon is cool, I get a medal, but the real reward is in the dedication in the action and in the sacrifice. I propose that when we do show compassion and love that we do it because it’s what’s right, and not because we think Karma will reward our selfish selflessness.
So to conclude, I would like to nudge you all in the way of universal compassion. To show empathy for all the way you would show it to your best friend or your mother, and to cast judgments and criticism as quickly as you would cast it on yourself – from your friend, to your brother, to you enemy, to Barack, to Mitt. I suspect that the sooner we can comprehend that love is a universally human thing – like air and food – the sooner we might be more willing to give it. And the sooner we apply the Golden Rule to those who are vastly dissimilar to us, the sooner we might have a little more peace in our lives.
That’s all for now!
Pardon any typos or awkward syntax, this was written late at night/early in the morning…