Compassion on a Tuesday Morning

22 people died last night in a bombing of a pop concert in Manchester. The first thing I saw on my Facebook newsfeed this morning was a post from a friend, who had said that they had reached compassion capacity, and that they simply shrugged and got on with getting ready for work, as there was nothing they could do anyway.

I hope never, ever to become this way.

It is my firm belief that we only allow ourselves to be de-sensitised. No one can de-sensitise us in today’s easy, modern world (I’m talking about people who have decent jobs, put food on the table, have a place to live and also have money left over for some nice things, like socialising). It is a choice that we make to turn ourselves off to the world.

My thoughts and prayers are with the families of those who are seriously hurting right now. They can’t shrug it off and go to work. They have lost children, parents, brothers and sisters. Those who survived are in pain, undergoing or awaiting surgery at one of the six hospitals in the area that took these emergencies. If these people can’t turn off, then I certainly can’t.

There is no limit to compassion. Let me repeat that: there is absolutely no limit to compassion. We can have compassion for anyone. That doesn’t mean we tolerate bad behaviour or condone violence in any way. It means that we do not turn off that very essence of what makes us human, that ability to feel, to empathise, to look deeper into an issue and to offer healing, support, prayers and love where and when we can. There is no limit to that.

Yes, there are some cases in our lives when we have to walk away from a bad situation. But we don’t have to turn ourselves off in the process. People have been horrendous to me, and I have needed to walk away. In doing so, I have not turned myself off, but sought compassion for myself, and gotten out of a bad situation so that my compassion for others would not be compromised. And the people who were horrendous to me, well, I only hope that they truly find the healing that they need, so that they stop doing it to others, and themselves.

It is all about the choices that we make. I was going to write a blog post today about choices, but that will follow in a consecutive post later this week or next week. This morning, I needed to focus on the events of last night, and my friend’s reaction to them. It saddened me greatly, and also angered me that people could make the choice to turn themselves off. We live in such a narcissistic society, that we only focus on ourselves. We often use the excuse that the only thing that we can change is ourselves, however, for me in that context it is just that: an excuse. When we see suffering in the world, if we only focus on ourselves, then how do we stop the suffering of others? Yes, we need to heal ourselves, but we also need healing for the world at large. If we are always looking inwards, then we are ignoring the outer world that is very much a part of our reality and existence. Just because we choose to ignore it, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

If everyone ignored the suffering in the world, then there wouldn’t be organisations dedicated to helping others, when human or non-human. Greenpeace, The Red Cross, Amnesty International; these would not exist. We have to look beyond the scope of our little world and realise that we are very much part of the whole. We co-create the world that we live in. We co-create our reality.

What do I mean by that? Well, I often hear the saying that “we create our own reality.” This isn’t true, because there are many factors in life that aren’t under our control. The child in Aleppo did not create the reality of a war-torn city. We are responsible for what we bring into the world, and we also have to realise that we share this world with others who are bringing their own stuff into the mix, and therefore into our reality. Ignoring this does not make it go away. If I ignored what happened last night and simply got on with my day, then this blog post would not be written. I would not be sharing my words and thoughts with you. I would not be exploring the themes of suffering and compassion, and how to make this world a better place for everyone.

I will not turn myself off to the suffering in the world. Sometimes, there may not be much I can do about it, but if I turn myself off then I will bring that into my own little world, my local environment, which leads to a de-sensitivity to that area. It will trickle down into my everyday life, from my relationship to my husband, to my friends, to the lady at the post office. When we de-sensitise ourselves at a national or global level, we are fooling ourselves if we think that doesn’t seep into our everyday life, our everyday interactions with people, with the world.

My thoughts and prayers for the families of last night’s tragedy may not have an immediate or direct affect upon them personally. The children who are orphaned in Syria, with no place to go, are again not immediately affected by my thoughts and prayers. Neither are the badgers being culled, or the battered woman seeking a place to sleep for the night in a non-government funded women’s shelter. But I am affected by this, and so is everyone around me. I will not lose my compassion, and open my heart to everyone who I do come into contact with. I will try to make this world a better place, to live in harmony and to promote peace. If I turn myself off to the suffering, how can I promote peace?

We are making a choice, when we ignore the suffering. Sometimes there is a line, where we have to walk away from a bad situation because we ourselves are at risk. That is usually because we are suffering to a large extent, due to myriad factors, most of them beyond our control. We all need to retreat every now and then, to lick our wounds and to heal. On my darkest days, when the suffering in the world overwhelms me, when the aching in my bones and joints moves from the dull to the sharp, I need to take a step away. But that doesn’t mean I shut myself off completely. I still have compassion for others. I need to take care of myself, certainly, but I do not forget others. I do not forget that the world is more than just me.

Compassion is all about choice.

On the turning away
From the pale and downtrodden
And the words they say
Which we won’t understand
“Don’t accept that what’s happening
Is just a case of others’ suffering
Or you’ll find that you’re joining in
The turning away”
It’s a sin that somehow
Light is changing to shadow
And casting it’s shroud
Over all we have known
Unaware how the ranks have grown
Driven on by a heart of stone
We could find that we’re all alone
In the dream of the proud
On the wings of the night
As the daytime is stirring
Where the speechless unite
In a silent accord
Using words you will find are strange
Mesmerised as they light the flame
Feel the new wind of change
On the wings of the night
No more turning away
From the weak and the weary
No more turning away
From the coldness inside
Just a world that we all must share
It’s not enough just to stand and stare
Is it only a dream that there’ll be
No more turning away   – Pink Floyd

9 thoughts on “Compassion on a Tuesday Morning

  1. Joanna…I share the anger and disappointment that you feel right now, shutting off and turning away can’t be an appropriate response. I feel much the same when someone says to me that they’re not going to bother to vote because it won’t make any difference anyway. Who knows if it will or it won’t….but not voting betrays the efforts of those who struggled so hard for everyone to have the right to vote. But going back to yesterday, even if all we can do is hold those broken people in our minds in the days to come, and those who are giving of themselves to help them, then that is a good act of intentional compassion….John /l\

    • I heartily agree, John. It’s so frustrating, talking and hearing about people who won’t vote. On the news last night, they were vox-popping people in a very poor Hudderfield community, who were so apathetic because they believed their vote wouldn’t make a difference. They had no hope left, or they were uncertain as to how to vote, or legion of reasons why they wouldn’t. But when that is your option, the only way your voice can be heard, to be silent is baffling, to say the least. x

  2. Beautifully said, Jo, I still remember the fiirst time something on the news made me cry.It was 11 days after my 9th birthday & it was the Aberfan Disaster.I cried for the children who could have been my school friends, especially as I lived in a mining community & could see that colliery’s spoil tip from where I lived.Luckily that one was a safely away from habitation & we didn’t live in a valley.I haven’t lost the memory of how I felt then & that was over 50 years ago.
    There are many times over the years since that I’ve cried for things that have happened that I can’t do anything about & those I have managed to do something about.
    I often think that compassion is viewed as something soft & “sissy”, but like you I think compassion is an important part of being human, when we lack it or lose it we begin to lose our humanity.

    • Very well put, Carolyn! Yes, it is the essence of our humanity, isn’t it? Or the essence of our soul, or whatever you want to call it, because it’s probably not limited to the human species. I hate the fact that our society tells us that compassion is weak. That is a sickness that needs healing, desperately. xoxo

    • I think that as humans, we need to be attuned to our emotions, for they help us in empathizing with others. When we have empathy, we also have compassion, because we can see ourselves in that situation, should circumstances have been different. In today’s society, we are often told to lock away our emotions, and so it comes out in huge outpourings of grief when something like the Manchester bombing happens; it’s a huge release for people to show kindness when it may otherwise be seen as a weakness, especially in today’s corporate and capitalist-driven world. For me, you have have compassion without emotion, but you must also understand your emotions in order to understand your motivations, why you do the things you do, so that you can live a life with intention, instead of reaction. Blessings. x

  3. Love how you speak so eloquently and I definitely agree that we should not only make peace in our lives but also in others where we can!

  4. Proud to say I am from Manchester, it is how we are up North, show our feelings when necessary, brought up quite stoical otherwise!

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