Why does compassion have to be boundless?

In the aftermath of the Sandy Hook school shootings in Connecticut, and the suicide of Jacintha Saldanha, the nurse who became the victim of a mindless radio show hoax call, it’s time again to look at how we all share responsibility for these events.

In the Guardian on Monday, President Obama was criticised for the stark contrast between his outpouring of grief for the children and staff who lost their lives in this tragic incident, compared to the countless innocents who’s family’s lives have been wrecked by the “drone wars”.

With respect to the indiscriminate killing of innocents by drone attacks, Democrat Joe Klein claimed on MSNBC that “the bottom line in the end is whose four-year-old gets killed? What we’re doing is limiting the possibility that four-year-olds here will get killed by indiscriminate acts of terror.”

It would be pretty hard to stomach if this really is the bottom line of Obama’s policy. Compassion that starts on your front door step and radiates only inwards is not compassion at all. You might think it is, but it’s not. This kind of compassion relies on family members meeting each other’s desires. As soon as that condition fails, then things soon turn ugly. It happens all of the time – particularly at christmas – particularly after a few drinks! Even Tyrants would say they love their families, but the domestic abuse statistics clearly show otherwise.

It is easy to devalue others without thinking about it – and when we live in a world without true compassion, then it’s not hard to see why we suffer.

The mindless prank phone call that lead to Jacintha’s suicide is just another example of how people can devalue others in order to protect themselves – in this case, to protect their self image. The radio presenters were so intent on projecting themselves as great entertainers that they thought nothing of humiliating the dedicated nurse on the other end of the phone. Would they have carried this out if the victim was a much loved sibling, perhaps a sibling they knew to be a dedicated and sensitive carer? I doubt it.

Likewise, TV and the Internet are full of examples of people being humiliated at the expense of a cheap laugh. Talent shows which entertain through exploiting and humiliating people who genuinely believe they have talent can be particularly cruel. The producers who argue that it’s every persons’ right to enjoy the limelight are darkly cynical, in my view.

Equality remains a myth while enshrined only in legislature. Compassion remains a mirage while reserved only for those who meet our desires.

Shantideva writes:

Those desiring speedily to be a refuge for themselves and others should make the interchange of self and other, and thus embrace a sacred mystery.

What is this sacred mystery? It is the reality of emptiness, of interbeing, and interdependency. Only when we strive to understand the suffering of all living beings can we begin to act with real compassion. Only when we begin to act with real compassion will a true peace arise in the world. Have a peaceful, and compassionate Christmas.


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