Compassion ... It's a Virtue

Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D

It is unsettling when you think how many children and adults are living their lives in anger.  We go to bed mad about something that happened during the day or twenty years ago, and we wake up mad about another.  The "emotional space" in our lives is filled with anger, allowing little room for an emotion such as compassion.  Our engagement with anger results in our feeling alone and unsupported.  We interpret this, however, as a result of other people's action such as, "No body cares," "No body understands me," or "Nobody understands my pain."  Anger separates us from others, divides a family, and breaks up a union.  Compassion connects us with others.   

 Here is an example of how compassion works:  A child is lost.  People in the community get together.  They form search teams spending days and nights in a spirit of camaraderie and self-sacrifice. Being bonded by compassion for the lost child, everyone who takes part in the search feels an emotional high.  And, the family who is the recipient of everyone's compassion feels connected to the entire human race.    

 Albert Einstein, was not only one of the greatest scientists of all times, but also an extremely kind and compassionate person.  He tried to help people any way he could.  People wrote to him all the time seeking his advice about their personal and family problems.  I don't know how, but Einstein took time to write to them personally.  Once a rabbi wrote to him that he had tried in vain to comfort his 19-year old daughter over the death of her 16-year old sister.  Here is an excerpt of Einstein's reply to the rabbi:  

"A human being is a part of whole, that we call Universe--a part limited by time and space.   He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness.  This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us towards our personal desires, and to affection for a few persons nearest to us.  

Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and whole Nature with its beauty.   Nobody has been able to achieve it completely, but striving for such an achievement is a part of liberation and foundation for inner security."    (Aired by a New York radio station on the 25th anniversary of Einstein's death)      

 I have never heard a more forceful plea for compassion than this one.  Coming from the greatest physicist of our time, the plea is based on solid science.  Every act of compassion that we deliver, is not really towards somebody outside ourselves, it is directed towards our own self.  If that is too esoteric for you, look at it as a principle of "Whatever goes around, comes around."  As you deliver an act of compassion, so you  receive.  Said another way, "As you sow, so shall you reap."    

 Universe does not separate us from other people, we do.  We do it through our "divisive emotions" such as anger, hate, prejudice, etc.  We connect with others through the 'uniting emotions" such as, love, empathy, compassion, etc.  Our human nature has given us both sets of emotions.  Choice is ours as to what we want to develop more in our lives:  Let's choose consciously by asking ourselves, every now and then, "Do I want to stay connected and bonded with others or, do I want to distantiate myself from them?"  

 Heart is the seat of compassion.  The Tinman in the Wizard of Oz doesn't have a heart and he is most unhappy about it.   The Tinman wants a heart, not just any heart, but a kind heart.  Oz tries to talk him out of it and says, "I think you are lucky not to have a heart, for the heart is what makes most people unhappy."  "That is your opinion," said the Tinman.  "For my part, I will bear all the unhappiness without a word if you will give me a heart."  The Tinman and the heart story is there to remind us the need for compassion.  There is no heart without compassion.            

 Imagine "Jody" walking on a lonely street or laying in his/her bed in the middle of the night.  Somebody pops up from behind and holds him/her at gun point.   You can bet that Jody's biggest wish or prayer at that point would be for this mugger or burglar to have compassion for Jody, to take the cash and spare his/her life.  We want every mugger,  burglar, and criminal of any sorts to have a compassionate heart.  So, in our drowning, sinking, and defenseless moments, we want a rescuer who has a compassionate heart.  Let's make sure that we have one for others when they're in a similar situation.  Compassion has helped the human race to survive.  Compassion may be a personal virtue, but it certainly is a necessity for the human race.  

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Copyright 1996, Mind Publications 



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