Thursday, October 05, 2006

Still more on compassion

In his book, Who Speaks for God?: An Alternative To the Religious Right—A New Politics of Compassion, Community, and Civility, Jim Wallis has this to say about compassion:
Compassion has less to do with 'doing charity' than 'making connections.' The word compassion means literally 'to suffer with.' It means to put yourself in somebody else's shoes, try to understand their experience, or see the world through their eyes. That always changes our perspective. True compassion has less to do with sympathy than it does with empathy.

The call to compassion is not about somebody 'doing for' somebody else. Rather, its value is in the connection, the relationship, and the transaction in which everyone is changed. The Hebrew prophets say that we find our own good in seeking the common good. The prophet Isaiah says that when we feed the hungry, take in the homeless, and 'break the yoke' of oppression, then we find our own healing. He also says the act of compassion requires that you 'not hide yourself from your own flesh.' In other words, compassion means to recognize the kindred spirit we all share together. And the Bible insists that the best test of a nation's righteousness is how it treats the poorest and most vulnerable in its midst.
Once again, meditation helps us cultivate compassion because it teaches us reliable skills for managing our thoughts and emotions so that we're not overwhelmed. I really think the fear of being overwhelmed is what prevents a lot of people from opening their hearts.

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