Last Saturday I went to a writers conference and attended a panel on shifting narratives from violence and dysfunction to empathy and compassion. I was so excited! This seemed like the perfect panel for me!
Yet as the authors spoke, I found myself frowning and struggling to understand why they were talking about these things, because it felt like the words were missing. They were trying to talk about something they had no understanding, no language for – and they were writers.
But it’s not just them.
Religion used to be a house for this word – at least sacred texts say the holiest, the realization of what it means to be human, is a compassionate human (Note: Jewish, Christian, Islamic, Sikh, Hindu and Buddhist sacred texts contain this concept, and discuss it repeatedly throughout scripture and later commentaries. Selections included in my interfaith devotional show some of this).
But these days, many have shunned religion as useless, at best, and harmful at worst. Religious institutions became tools to push political and cultural agendas that hurt more than they helped. A product of the best and worst of humanity, the larger story of fear and ignorance overpowered the purpose of faith. The words and stories codified in sacred texts lost their importance in society and their meaning. Their underlying kernel of universal human ideal – the compassionate human – was lost with it.
As a species, we have forgotten what it means to be compassionate. The stories in entertainment and news are primarily focused on fear, scarcity, and ignorance. Where are those stories of love? Where are those stories of love in action? Where are the models for compassionate behavior? How can we be something we cannot see?
As a child, with ordained minister parents who live their progressive faith, I saw compassion on a daily basis. My parents instructed me on how to show love in action with other children and adults. Old, homeless, LGBTQIA, young, disabled, rich, brown, conservative, white, atheist, liberal, and everyone in between – as far as my parents were concerned, they all deserved love. I listened to them and their theologically-trained friends talk in depth about compassion and empathy. I soaked in their sermons and panel discussions.
As an adult, I befriended people from all sorts of identities, nationalities, and persuasions. In India I studied the six most populous world religions, learning their histories and reading their texts, seeing the universal human ideal as something my parents strived to be – as something I wanted to be.
But I also read fantasy and science-fiction. I watched television and movies. I listened to the radio and music streaming. The narratives in entertainment often directly contradicted those in sacred texts. Sometimes they’d grab on to something, as in the Netflix series Daredevil, but it was a fragment. The context was troubling, or the overall story arc focused on something else, overwhelming whatever good was done.
I can write fiction with the intention to change the narrative, and those reading it may notice something is different, but how can you recognize it if you don’t have the words?
For this reason, let’s give an overview of what I mean when I used the word compassion.
Compassion is love expressed. It is love in action.
Whatever action there is, has intention and emotion behind it. A child handing a toy to his mother wants to play with her because he loves her. Someone smiling on the street does so because they are happy and they want to show it. These are simple examples of intention and emotion behind actions, but what about love in action? What about compassion?
Hugging a homeless man who feels hopeless is compassion. Letting someone know you appreciate them is compassion. Getting down on your knees to smile and speak with a child who is anxious about being in a new place for the first time is compassion. The intention behind these actions is to support, and each expresses love.
My intention in writing is to spread compassion and empathy. I do this because I love you. For me, this is a compassionate act. I used to write for a variety of reasons, but the more I progressed, the more I realized I did it because I love you – I don’t need to have met you, or know your history to love you as a fellow human being. That’s why I blog five days a week. It’s why I write the fiction I do and even why I published independently in order to subvert gatekeepers who might prevent my writing from publication.
This week I’d ask you to do one of two things (or both if you feel ambitious). Look for compassion around you – in entertainment, real life, or the news. The more advanced thing I’d ask you to do is to be compassion. Make a concerted effort to intentionally act out of love, at least once a day. I’d love to hear what happens after you start doing this.
How do you see compassion? Are there any models around you or in your life? Leave a comment below!
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