The unfortunate side of compassion

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In many ways, the left defines itself through compassion.

We believe that instead of judging and blaming for their lowly place in society or their unfortunate actions or beliefs, we should instead seek to understand the underlying reasons for their actions and beliefs, and then address the systems that ultimately create those actions and beliefs. For example, instead of simply condemning criminals as the right is inclined to do, the left asks: why were they funneled into such action in the first place? How might society itself have encouraged such action? What can we do to prevent such action in others? How can we effectively rehabilitate criminals so that they person can thrive once again?

This is a wonderful thing.

Compassion demands that we look at how we and society itself (which we all uphold and contribute to) might cause the poverty, irrationality, criminal behavior, etc. that we see in others. It insists on painting a complex picture of reality rather than simply blaming people for their laziness, stupidity, immorality, or lack of ingenuity. It asks us to reach out with kindness and understanding when before we might push away with judgment and blame.

But the unfortunate side of this compassion is that we don’t get to pick and choose who is worthy of compassion. We don’t get to be compassionate only for those we are already inclined to have sympathy for. In fact, extending kindness and understanding for those we already have sympathy for isn’t really compassion at all.

Compassion is the act of transforming judgment and blame into sympathy. Compassion is the act of finding, understanding, and accepting the underlying reasons – whether they be systemic, related to past personal traumas, etc. – for actions or beliefs that we find repulsive and destructive, or that we simply don’t understand. It’s about fundamentally changing our orientation from condemnation to curiosity and sympathy.

And so, unfortunately, if you are only “compassionate” for the types of people that you already have sympathy for, you are not really compassionate, are you? More directly, if you only have room in your heart for compassion for women, people of color, the poor, the LGBT community, etc., but not for Trump voters, Christian fundamentalists, gun rights activists, white supremacists, etc. you are not really practicing compassion, are you? You are simply practicing kindness toward the people you are predisposed to be kind to.

This begs the question: Is the left truly committed to compassion and inclusiveness as core values? Or, rather, is it committed to sympathy and inclusion for the specific types of people whom its deem worthy of them?

Will we extend kindness, sympathy, and understanding to those that we most vehemently disagree with? Should we?

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