How Liberals Tend to Misunderstand Compassion

In my last post I said conservatives often mistake compassion for weakness, and to the conservative mind, strength — if not everything — is extremely important. Strength, of course, has limitations of its own, which is another post. In this post I want to focus on the particular way liberals tend to misunderstand compassion.

In its simplest form, liberals tend to want to own that virtue, and to assume that if someone thinks differently about an issue than they do, it stems from a lack of compassion. This isn’t necessarily the case for several reasons.

First, as I mentioned in the Facebook post that kicked off this series (if you don’t follow me on Facebook, and you wonder what you’re missing, you can do so here), simply feeling deeply about something is not the same as compassion. Compassion is not an emotion, it is emotion in action. A liberal who feels strongly about something but takes no action has no right to call a conservative heartless for also not taking any action. Feeling something, again, as I have said, is not the point.

Second, I know people (both liberals and conservatives, by the way, as these labels are useful primarily for purposes of writing about individual positions, not summing up entire human beings) who do not give to homeless people out of what I believe is sincere concern for their welfare, lest they spend the money on booze or other things bad for them. Misguided as I believe this is, I do not doubt the intentions behind it. In this case, those who do not give are taking action (withholding money they would otherwise give) for the benefit of the other.

Third, liberals are often former conservatives. They may tend to confuse specifics of their time as a conservative in the past with the individual conservative they are dealing with presently. For example, I know when I was a conservative I listened to a lot of heartless people on talk radio and adopted many of those positions for myself. I may therefore make the mistake of ascribing heartlessness to a conservative I’m dealing with about a specific issue. In other words, it may have more to do with me than it has to do with that other person.

Fourth, and this is similar to the first, is that I think we liberals tend to see ourselves (for better or for worse) as the standard-bearers of morality. I’m just keeping it real. We have been through our own journeys to get where we are and we know we are better people than we were before. But it is important to keep in mind the difference between being a better version of yourself than you used to be, and being better than other people. I really think that’s a blind spot liberals often have. Conservatives sense that condescension and it rightly drives them up a wall.

If a given liberal really has moved forward on their journey to compassion, that is excellent of course, but we do not want to lose in humility what we may sometimes gain in compassion.

How Conservatives Tend to Misunderstand Compassion

Conservatives tend to make the mistake of believing compassion is synonymous with being a “bleeding heart.” They may think someone calling for compassion is unreasonable, or doesn’t understand reality or economics.

This is false. The word “compassion” is rooted in a Latin word that means “co-suffering,” and it’s literal meaning in English is “to love together with.”

So to exercise compassion is not in any sense to be unreasonable, but it is to enter into the sufferings of others, to consider their suffering as your own.

Compassion as a way of life, or a way of seeing the world, stems directly from the ancient Golden Rule, expressed best in our Judeo-Christian history by Jesus Christ — “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

No political party can lay exclusive claim to compassion, for it is not a political term, but a religio-spiritual one. It is opposed neither to reason nor to emotion, but it transcends them both with its call to concrete action.

Let us get very practical for a moment. Compassion, applied to the Flint water crisis, would mean that as we go forward in addressing this issue, we hold solidarity with the suffering ones — the families who have been most deeply affected. We resist the urge to simply boil this down to economics on one side, or to immediately diagnose it as human evil on the other. Those are knee-jerk political reactions, but the path of compassion calls us to see things from the perspective of those who have been and are being harmed. We can evaluate it economically or judge it morally, but neither of those things requires us to stand with those who have been most deeply affected. We can do both from a distance.

But compassion asks us to co-suffer, if not in our bodies, then at least in our hearts and minds, to put ourselves in the places of the suffering people of Flint. Whatever merits careful thinking and deep feeling may have (and they both have many merits and many potential pitfalls), compassion is something else entirely.

A substantial part of the reason conservative people may mistake compassion for blessing heart liberalism is due to how liberals often misunderstand and misrepresent compassion. I’ll write about that in my next post.

Your Primal Fear

Fear that your way of viewing the world is wrong

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Want proof that most people live with a deep fear they are constantly trying to disguise?

All you have to do is teach a college philosophy class and watch what happens as one person after another finds their most basic beliefs threatened. See how people sputter, how their ears and cheeks turn red, how they desperately flail around trying to find a logical argument to support their dearly-held beliefs. You can see the terror in their eyes.

Watch students drop out after two weeks, some of them honest enough to say, “This class is threatening my beliefs.” Translation: I am scared to death that this class is going to cause a deep crisis in my life and I don’t know how I’ll get through it. I’m afraid I’ll discover that the logical reasons for being Christian aren’t any better than the logical reasons for *not* being Christian (or Muslim, or Buddhist, or Wiccan, or atheist, etc.), and that scares me to death. So I’m going to quit, and pretend I don’t know the things I’ve come to know.

The Matrix translation: I’ll have the blue pill, thank you.

We are fragile people, running from anything that might hold our beliefs up to the light, but then defending that unstable fortress vigorously, as if we are certain we are correct, even to the point of getting angry at anyone who challenges us or refuses to accept our version of reality.

This is human nature. We try to act strong and confident, but we’re terrified someone might be able to get us to question our reality. That’s precisely why you should be most suspicious of those who admit to the least doubt. This isn’t an indicator of strong faith, but of a deeper-than-usual fear which causes them to be especially rigid, so it is not only others who are not permitted to question their beliefs, but they themselves.

If Hitler or Stalin had been willing to allow someone to challenge their beliefs, they could have been proved wrong in ten minutes. This because, like all homicidal belief systems, their beliefs were irrational. Instead they chose to cover over their doubt with what looked like strength by exterminating millions of people. ISIS is engaged in this same mindless work today. Defending, reacting, and simply killing all who threaten them, lest they be exposed to themselves as what they are — mindless and evil automatons, whose real beliefs are irrational and therefore without any sensible defense.

On some level we are all doing that work — defending, reacting, and ignoring, criticizing, or downplaying those who threaten our way of seeing the world.

Once upon a time I was naive enough to think Christians would see this pattern (since this mindless defensiveness and reactivity is what killed Jesus), or at least *want* to see it, and that most would understand that God, who is truth, calls us into truth and that we have nothing to protect or fear.

How wrong I was. As a group, Christians are as deeply rooted in unreality, in defending, reacting, and fighting against truth, as anyone — oftentimes more.

All because of fear, which Christians know, in their minds at least, perfect love drives out of us. Still, most choose fear over love and in today’s political environment, I’m sorry to say more are actively choosing fear than I have ever seen before.

My Eulogy

Words I'm Trying to Live Into Before I'm Gone

dead rose - eulogy

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If you don’t know that a lot of famous people have been dying lately, you’re living under a rock. With all these people dying, I’ve been reading a lot of tweets and posts in memoriam. It got me to thinking about what I want to be said about me after I am gone. I hope my eulogy goes something like this:

Dave was the guy you knew would always tell you the truth, and the one who seemed to usually be able to cut through the crap and get down to what a problem  was really about. He faced a lot of challenges, especially as he got up to around 50 and then beyond, but he took it in stride and kept going, kept pouring his life into others, and always found a way to see his life as a gift from God.

And his life was a gift to all who knew him, which is the way he always wanted it. And the closer people were to him, the more they respected him. You knew he was the real deal. He didn’t try to be anything he wasn’t and was always honest about who he was, even when it wasn’t pretty.

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Thoughts on Caretaking and Being Taken Care Of

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A friend wrote to me recently about a friend of hers whose husband suffered a traumatic brain injury a few years ago. Her friend was struggling with the fact that she feels like she doesn’t get to “date” her husband anymore, that she is a caretaker only, and no longer really a wife, and that he’s no longer who he used to be emotionally, physically, mentally, and in other ways.

Here is my response, edited for privacy and language.

I cannot respond to your inquiry from anyplace other than my own experience, and that’s not a great place right now. It’s pretty frickin’ dark in here. I’ll try to answer your question, and forgive me if there’s a lot of useless junk about me in my response. Maybe I’ll just try to answer it and also share a lot about what it’s like being taken care of so you can help this friend understand her husband’s experience a little more.

Just came off another MS flareup with bladder and bowel issues that were the main problem, which will ruin anybody’s attitude. I’ll leave it at that, but it’s terrible. That’s even TMI for me, and I’m the one it happened to. Five days of steroid infusions seemed to clear it up for the most part.

 

So having said all that, I’ll take a crack at this. Please forgive whatever shortcomings are in this response that might seem obviously due to my own mess.

I tell aspiring therapists they should never work harder than their clients, and I wonder if this wife is working a lot harder than her husband. That is a waste of time.

I also wonder if her request is even reasonable to begin with. Christy can wish all she wants that we could date again, and sometimes we can, but some days it’s all I can do to relieve myself properly, get from point A to point B without breaking something, have a productive day at work — if I can work at all — and get back to my place on the couch at day’s end. This is not always true but there are days/weeks/months when I am, quite simply broken — emotionally, sexually, spiritually, physically — take your pick. There’s no way to soft pad that.

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