Thursday, February 04, 2010

A welcome bit of subtlety

One of the truly tedious things about living in Britain is the number of "shock ads" on television designed to dissuade the Brits from drinking and driving or neglecting to turn their electrical appliances off at night. They generally involve firemen holding distraught parents back from returning into a burning house to rescue their children, who will shortly die because somebody left the little red light on on the television set, or twisted bodies of adorable children on roads because somebody drank too much, etc etc.

As necessary as the messages may be it seems to be of a piece with the government's low view of the people who elected them that the citizens of this country need to be brutalized by terrible visual images before they'll decide to fly right. The ads are truly distasteful (I won't even give you an example here) and I turn the well-known ones off when they start.

The example above is different. Quite gripping without being revolting. Well done!

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.