Compassion
Joan Chittister

  
 I have lived in the inner city for a long time.  It is not, by and large, a place of indiscriminate virtue.  I have discovered that compassion comes no easier to the poor than it does to the rest of humankind.  Compassion is clearly more a state of mind than a state of life.  People are no more generous here, no more kind here, no more virtuous here than are people in the suburbs--despite the fact that they know suffering as few do.  How can that be, I wondered?  How is it that the poor do not commiserate with the poor?

And then I understood:  the poor know the burden of injustice, seldom the privilege of mercy.  It is the advantaged who are called to compassion and mercy because it is the advantaged who have the luxury to give and the responsibility to understand.

I have known these things for a long time but yesterday I saw them alive and smiling.  I met the young man in question in Cape Town, South Africa.  He was from Chicago, heard the American accent, and took the trouble to tell me to "travel safely."

"I was beaten up on the street," he said, pointing to his half-healed right eye.  "They stole the shoes right off my feet."

I winced a little.

"When I called to tell my mother," he said, "she was furious.  But I said to her," he went on simply, "Mom, you don't understand.  Those shoes cost more than most of these people make in a year."

He smiled a little.  "I just hope they fit him."

I realized that I had just seen real compassion in action.  He understood the offense.  He oozed no righteous fury.  In that smile, I learned a lot that I had known for years but, all of a sudden, knew differently.

Seeing with Our Souls

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Compassion and nonviolence help us to see the enemy's point of view,
to hear their questions, to know their assessment of ourselves.
For from their point of view we may indeed see the basic weaknesses
of our own condition, and if we are mature, we may learn and grow and profit
from the wisdom of the brothers and sisters who are called the opposition.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

   

  

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The individual is capable of both great compassion
and great indifference.  We have it within our means
to nourish the former and outgrow the latter.

Norman Cousins

  

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