“If your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete.”
― Gautama Buddha
“A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling 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 to 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 the whole of nature in its beauty.”
― Albert Einstein
“And when I came in with tears in my eyes, you always knew whether I needed you to hold me or just let me be. I don’t know how you knew, but you did, and you made it easier for me.”
― Nicholas Sparks, The Notebook
“Some people think only intellect counts: knowing how to solve problems, knowing how to get by, knowing how to identify an advantage and seize it. But the functions of intellect are insufficient without courage, love, friendship, compassion, and empathy.”
― Dean Koontz
Getting into a philosophical discussion of compassion is one herculean exercise. Like in dealing with the concept of suffering, silent reflection–or reflective silence, if you will–is perhaps the most meaningful and effective path to better understand compassion in its fullest sense. I know how it feels to be compassionate in the presence of a triggering event and I’m sure others likewise do if caught in a similar situation. But “exposing” the concept of compassion under the sunlight of objective scrutiny is, I believe, a distortion of and thus injurious to the true meaning of compassion. In this sense, I’d rather not dissect the concept of compassion on the “operating table”of epistemological inquiry but instead embrace it in the silence of my heart as the most fitting way to understand its dynamicity.
Appropriating the Wilberian quadrants paradigm, the essence of compassion is exclusively located in the upper left quadrant which is “interior-individual” and can only be precisely known by the entity who at a certain point in time experiences it while in the very process of doing a “compassionate” act. Some manifestations are observable to call an act “compassionate” but such manifestations are not absolute proofs that such an act is truly triggered by compassion. Nevertheless, in an instance of this nature, the main concern is not on the issue of whether an act is one of true compassion or not but rather on the resultant positive and hence beneficial effect(s).
We have seen a lot of so-called “compassionate” acts performed by human individuals and groups in cases of calamity, distress, disaster and emergency among others, both big and small, personal and collective. We express in unison words and paeans of praise and appreciation for a “compassionate angel” who “selflessly” go out of her/his way and even beyond her/his means to help someone in need and in the process soothe the latter’s pain and ease her/his suffering. But true compassion is hitched on motives. Whatever one’s motive is in doing a “compassionate” act towards another is basically unknowable. It is the performer of the act her/himself alone who understands her/his true motive. I do not however imply that compassion is unreal; it is just externally unverifiable in its fullness. In other words, the most we can do is to simply approximate the judgment we conceive and utter in relation to an act deemed as “compassionate”.
I for one believe that compassion as a matter of feeling is real because I myself feel compassion towards people in distress or in extreme need of help. In certain cases though, the possibility of translating my feeling of compassion into a compassionate action is almost (if not totally) nil because of space and time factors as well as financial constraints. I genuinely feel the need to help and ease the pains of a friend but due to some limitations, there is actually no way for me to possibilize my feeling of compassion through personal presence. If compassion is all a matter of feeling, no more, no less, then it is nothing but a futile operation of consciousness whose effect(s) could even be seriously detrimental at its extremest point to the mental and emotional condition of the individual who has been disturbed and troubled by her/his feeling of compassion towards a person or a circumstance.
My feeling of compassion is understandable only within and by myself unless it is translated into action. But even when it finds a way of being expressed in action, it is only the performer of the act who has the absolute understanding that her/his act is one of compassion on the basis of her/his real motive. It should not therefore be the performer’s intent to convince both the spectators to and the recepients of a beneficial act that such is a “compassionate” act. It is enough that the performer of a “compassionate” act understands that her/his act emanates from a genuinely compassionate motive; it is not something that needs an explanation. What is therefore objectively necessary in such an event is the fact that someone in distress has benefitted from a good deed and in the process has been freed from her/his difficulty and suffering. If someone other than the performer of the deed wants to call it “compassion,” then so be it.
(c) Ruel F. Pepa, 22 October 2014