Compassion and Empathy

Compassion means that one realizes that, “I am not separate from this suffering” – Joan Halifax

When one talks about compassion,equality, social justice, and the act of becoming a community, it is important to understand that even though we all have unique personalities (soals, spirits, et cetera..), the reality is that we are all literally of the same body. During conception, a new baby is not created out of nothing. A cell, who’s essential components come from mom and dad, splits. This is important because we are not the completely unique individuals that the American dream professes that we are. We are a part of a infinitely long process of continuous creation. What we see when we look at each other, the trees, the animals, butterflies, is a reflection of our literal selves.  The genetic difference between a mouse and a human is very, very small, and that matters when we talk about how we treat other people, and how we treat other species. Violence toward “others” is really violence towards ourselves…the effects of poverty and climate change are proof.
Gaia Theory, following this line of thought, claims that the earth is a single living organism, where everything is integrated and networked into infinitely complex relationships. Middle class white men are a piece of that network, but so are monkeys, soil, air, penguins, water, and every other living and non living component on earth. The living cannot exist without the nonliving “stuff” that supports it, making that non-living stuff just as important as the living stuff. The continuous flow of materials (carbon, oxygen, etc,.) and information (DNA) between the living and non living really blurs the line as to what life is. This is why the Native Americans felt that rocks and water and stars had souls, and were alive. They recognized the infinitely complex relationships of which they were a small part of.
The privilege, and curse, to people is that they are self conscious. Remember that we are made up of molecules of carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, et cetera. No where else in the entire universe has structures of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen, risen to the level of having feelings of love, hatred, and compassion. Think about that. It is truly an amazing thing, but it puts a tremendous burden on us to find a healthy place for ourselves in this universe. We have to make decisions. Rocks don’t make decisions. Animals make decisions, but they live in the moment, and can’t comprehend the gravity of their actions onto others. When humans hurt others we know it, and we choose to do it usually for personal or family gain. It hurts everyone involved, simply because we are all of the same body, and we are self conscious.
The idea of the Beloved Community, as popularized by Martin Luther King, is to hold that paradox in your hands gracefully. We are actually all of the same physical body, and we have risen to the level of self consciousness where we must make difficult choices. All choices we make have consequences, either directly or indirectly through the people and environment that we live with(in). Creating the Beloved Community is about effectively playing our small, but important, part in creating the infinitely complex and beautiful world that we are. Seeing others as the same, but unique, special, but not exceptional, simply follows from this line of thought. “Social Justice” becomes just a word. Compassion becomes natural.
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