OP-ED: Finding Compassion


Clori Rose, adviser

Trinity Martinez, Lambert High School junior

“Where is God in our society? Where is He in our lives?” This question posed by the priest serving mass at St. Brendan’s on Saturday. Some might answer, “Well of course he’s asking that! He’s a priest.” Others still may say, “Well God is everywhere, duh.” I, for one, after much deliberation, answered, “Nowhere.” Whether from the media, the workplace, or even our own homes, we are surrounded by a never ending flow of malice, inequity, overindulgence, and egotism. Whatever happened to our good, clean, wholesome society? If the world plans to keep on living, we cannot, we will not survive unless we gain compassion.

Through the week, I continued to think about Father’s sermon and realized something. I needed to alter my answer to his question. As it turns out, there is one person in the world right now that puts forth his whole being to try and bring God’s love back into our lives. He is the Holy Father, Pope Francis. Though God the Father would be the ultimate example for us to imitate, Pope Francis is here on earth for us to observe compassion with our own eyes. Slowly but surely, he has been trying to guide the world on the path towards holiness. For instance, within every year the Catholic Church proposes a new call to action: Pope Francis has elected to create the Year of Mercy. The Pope wants to specifically stress the importance of the recognition of God’s great mercy and compassion. Even before his pontificate, during his time as the Archbishop of Buenos Aires, he showed the world what a stunning example of compassion he is. He would roam the streets shedding great love upon the despised and neglected.  He would hear confessions from prostitutes on park benches and hold the hands of AIDS victims in hospice. He even disguised himself to march in a procession at the slums. Most recently, he has ruled that starting December, for a limited time, priests will have the power to forgive the grave sin of abortion. He has also appealed to European churches to open their doors to the refugees of Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq. “Mercy is the middle name of Love,” he says (Schneible). Pope Francis is a critical piece of our growth in compassion. He is all about teaching the world to have the courage to love those who are otherwise neglected. Though the Pope has attained a level of compassion that we can only hope to achieve, there are a great many lessons we can obtain from watching his work.

Over the years, we have lost our virtue and the only way to return to our former glory is to teach ourselves compassion.  This idea is perfectly expressed through the commentary of Barbara Lazear-Ascher, “Compassion is not a character trait like a sunny disposition. It must be learned,” (Lazear-Ascher 48).  Because we were all designed perfectly by the Creator and made to reflect his image and likeness, we are all born with an innate sense of compassion. Whether we choose to use that gift, or bury it within, is the challenge. Compassion is defined as “the emotional state of caring for people who are suffering in a way that motivates altruistic behavior.” So how on earth can we teach ourselves to be this way? Researchers at the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds of the University of Wisconsin-Madison believe they have found the answer: compassion training. The study began with asking participants to partake in compassion meditation, a Buddhist technique. Through this exercise, each participant would recall a time when someone they knew had suffered, and then began to wish comforting thoughts upon that person. Participants were then asked to practice this technique in person: first with relatives, next with themselves, then with a stranger and finally with a “difficult person” in their life. They were also asked to listen to audio instructions of how to reframe your thoughts for 30 minutes each day. They repeated these exercises over the course of two weeks, and in the end were compared to a group that had only listened to the audio instructions. At the end of the two weeks, participants were asked to play a redistribution of money game on the internet. Participants would watch a “Dictator” give an unfair amount of money to a “Victim” and then decide if they wanted to give some of their money to the “Victim.” Researchers found that the group that had been taught compassion techniques and also listened to audio instructions was more compassionate towards the “victims.” Then participants were taken to an MRI to see how they responded to images of human suffering. Again, those with the most compassion “training” displayed more brain activity when viewing the images (Deshaw-Rowe). Just imagine how many situations this emotional training could be applied to. Compassion training could become a general assistance to help us become more in tune with not only our emotions but that of others. Thus, decreasing the social walls of society. The idea of compassion can be grasped in such a short time period, yet can only improve with frequent practice and training.

So how exactly is this supposed to be practiced? Well, step one would be to observe compassion in society and that can be gained from the ultimate role model, Pope Francis. Step two is to attempt training the brain to think more compassionately. All the tools are before us, we just have to transfer them from our minds to our bodies. Through the mindset of Jonathan Swift, even if we, “have not the least personal interest in endeavoring to promote this necessary work, hav[e] no other motive than the public good of [our] country,” (Swift 416). Compassion could be something as small as smiling at the person walking opposite us in the cereal section at Wal-Mart. No, it is not the same as feeding the hungry, but love and kindness was shown to someone without them having to ask for it. It is especially important to begin practicing this as a child or young adult. As the image of the future, we should be striving to make our world the best it can be. Why not start practicing now? Take notice of others around you. Is it going to be tough looking up from our screens and out into the world? Maybe so. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. I used to like to say I knew a whole lot of people at my high-school. But sometimes, as I walk down the hallway, I see someone I don’t recognize and think to myself, “Hey? When did you start going here?” And this is only in school. Imagine the hundreds and thousands of people we walk, drive, and pass by every day. Never once do we stop to realize, “Hey? When did you start to exist?” This is why compassion is so vital. Compassion pushes us past the walls of hate and pride, forcing us to focus on someone other than ourselves. In the ever wise words of the Dalai Lama, “Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them humanity cannot survive,” (Goodreads).

Now, begrudgingly I recognize that as much as I wish it were, compassion isn’t the answer to all of our world problems. Yes, I do realize a hug and a smile will not reverse climate change, end poverty, or improve the economy. But, with all the time we must spend on earth with suffering, it would be nice to integrate some compassion.  I am also not suggesting being compassionate towards the evil that prowls about the world seeking only ruin and destruction. Although, if our society overall was a loving and compassionate one, we most likely wouldn’t have that evil, now would we? Our world was built on series of interpersonal relationships and continues to run through them today. Compassion would refine and strengthen our connections with one another. If we want to keep on living this life, whether we like it or not, we must find our intrinsic compassion in order to go the distance.