Can We Make Compassion Our First Impulse?

There are days when the casual cruelty of people is pervasively depressing. How easy it is to place others into defined categories of right and wrong, good and evil, when the reality is far more complex than that.

I find that often it’s politics anymore that really draws out the unexplainable anger and judgement from others. I’m not sure why, I’m not sure if it has historically always been this way. Perhaps it lies in the human proclivity for categorization, allowing us to better navigate a world full of stimulus. It’s this base impulse, coupled with fear and agitation, that leads us to prejudice.

It seems to me that many people are uninterested in compassion. We define ourselves in groups, and then demonize any group seen as challenging to our own. Maslow puts the need to belong to community just after intimate relationships, friendship and security. So if we all desire, require even, the sense of belonging, why are we so quick to push “others” out of our communities?

I find myself saddened by this tendency to demonize, to ostracize. My first impulse to it is to withdraw. But I consider my mother.

For how many HD patients is the community withdrawn? We can’t tolerate a logical, well supported argument that disagrees with some defined belief we settled on ten years ago and refuse to alter. How then can I expect that we could tolerate the crazy, the delusional?

We push these people out of our communities, we stop calling them, we stop acknowledging them. Perhaps it is this desire to simplify the world, to cleanse our environment of perceived foes, adversaries, conflicts, that causes us to set aside the mentally ill.

Mentally ill, a deplorable title. A tag easily tossed around as if anyone who misperceives the world is devoid of any mental health. As if, their opinions no longer matter and should therefor no longer be heard.

It is easy to lend compassion to our daughters, our partners, our friends. It is easy to deny that compassion to strangers. Just think of the last time you saw someone whose coupon wouldn’t ring at the register. We thrust anger and resentment and judgement at people simply because they are in front of us, and for no better reason than it is easy!

Part of me would like to believe that there is enough good in people that this will change. But change happens slowly, over generations, and I don’t think I will ever see the day when people overwhelmingly respond to others with compassion and understanding rather than the sharp point of harsh words and epithets.

Or worse, with silence.

My mother has no community. There are many reasons, causes, enveloped in that process to solitude. But in the end, her coworkers have no use for her. Her friends don’t call. They don’t visit. I suppose it must be uncomfortable and sad for them.

Before her chorea made her condition clearly apparent to onlookers, her twitching movements and spontaneous “ah!”s would draw coarse looks and raised eyebrows. People were impatient. Rude even. And yet now that they understand she is generally treated with compassion. Why should there have been those intermediate years of hostility?


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