Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Thought for the Day

One definition of “compassion” has it described as being “more rigorous than empathy”. I don’t know if the word is ‘stronger’ or simply more likely to be turned into action. When Jesus sees the crowds – leaderless and without a shepherd – it is said in the text that he had compassion for them. The conversion of St Francis of Assisi took place not when he had a dream or a vision but when he saw a man stricken with leprosy standing on the side of the road. The sight marked the well-dressed young "Francesco". Something leapt into life within him and his life demonstrably changed thereafter.

My daughter began her first evening shift the other day at an overnight shelter for homeless women in Montreal. Up until this point she’d been paying her bills by working as a manager at a restaurant and she’d been well-paid and good at her job. She found, though, that the work was unrelated to her study at university which is all about people and intervening in the problems they face.

Her boyfriend, for his part, has just arrived in Haiti in a Canadian uniform where he’s in the midst of unpacking a field hospital and managing other supplies destined for the relief effort there. At different points on the globe they are dealing with the plight of others. They are now old enough and trained enough to make good on the feelings they have within them and to translate those into action on behalf of others.

Is empathy a warmer word? It describes what’s going on within us - what we feel. The impact – it’s right “there” and can take the form of distraction or tears or even physical pain .

Compassion usually refers to what we do alongside the object of our concern – what we do for them. We’d have to know whether we’re doing them any good and that’s harder to know. That’s where the risks come in.

We don’t always manage to do the good we intend, but unless we take the best stab at it we can, the feelings we have inside of us may remain merely feelings.

the audio is available for a limited time HERE. TFTD begins at 1:21.25 - a little more than halfway along the audio bar.


Anonymous said...

How do we decide that we are "called" to something great, or if we are meant to stay fairly ordinary (but Christian) in our small average jobs in our small average lives? The world needs a lot more ordinary people than "great" people or things would grind to a halt with everyone building schools in Africa, or crowding out the homeless centres with help, and not doing anything else. I admire those people enormously, and I feel quite guilty staying ordinary, especially since I started listening to sermons and reading stuff. How does anyone know that it's OK for them to be ordinary? Is it ever OK to be ordinary?

Raspberry Rabbit said...

Good question - maybe senses of vocation are in fact flights of ego or ways of escaping the perfectly ordinary hum drum of life.

There's no question that we are all ordinary - other than a few Chaucers and Shakespeares we all end up being forgotten a couple of hundred of years after we croak.

On the other hand I think most of us dodge a certain number of intuitions and "calls" that we receive in the course of life. Sometimes claiming that "I'm just ordinary" is another way of saying "no" to the voice within us or around us.