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Compassion and Tragedy

April 22nd, 2013

syrian revolution

The image of 8 year old Martin Richard holding a handmade sign saying, “No more hurting people- Peace” pretty well broke my heart. To think that he was killed while eating ice cream at the finish line of the Boston Marathon is almost too much to bear.

The image of a group of Syrians standing in rubble, holding another handmade sign that said, “Boston Bombings Represent A Sorrowful Scene Of What Happens Everyday In Syria” breaks my heart equally.

The thought of Cody Dragoo, an employee at the Texan plant that exploded last week and also a volunteer firefighter, losing his life trying to help others is too sad for words.

The scene of hundreds of people in the Chinese province of Sichuan, and many giant Pandas, running for their lives after yet another Earthquake in the region that killed hundreds last weekend after killing thousands in 2008, overwhelms me with sadness.

The 4 deaths and multiple injuries in Boston were awful, and yet in the same week there were many thousands of tragic deaths and injuries in Texas, Syria, Iraq, Sichuan and other places around the world.

How do you keep responding with compassion when the suffering seems never ending? How can we take on the challenge of young Martin Richard to do our part to create a world where we don’t hurt each other?

Author Dr Clarissa Pinkola Estes said,

Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach.

The first part of the world that is within our reach is our own ability to respond. We didn’t directly cause any of last week’s events, and we had very little control over any of it, but we can always choose how we respond. We can choose how we want to see the world. We can choose to look for reasons for optimism, focus in heroic, inspiring people and seek opportunities to live with kindness.

Comedian Patton Oswalt said it well,

We would not be here if humanity were inherently evil. We’d have eaten ourselves alive long ago.

Those who cause harm are a fraction of humanity. The majority run into danger to try and help. We have to keep perspective, stay hopeful about human nature and own our ability to choose our response in every situation.

We can’t turn back the clock on last week’s events, and we have no idea what this week will hold. But we can choose our actions and reactions in each moment. Choose kindness for as many as possible, in as many situations as possible, with as much compassion as you can muster, for as long as you have life and breath to keep trying.

martin richard

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  1. Rev. Sheri says:

    This is so beautifully said, and thank you so much for writing it.  With so much heartache happening all in one week, it is difficult to look past all the horror of what has taken place, but peace is mindset that we can choose to have.  If only we can allow our minds to accept that there is still much light in our world, we can open our hearts to the possibilities and connect to all of humanity through compassion and the love and kindness we send out to them.  Peace and Blessings. 

  2. ian says:

    thanks Sheri- its good to be surrounded by reminders of light and life- like you.

  3. Rev. Sheri says:

    Thank you, Ian.  Bless you and Meg for the work you do here.  :)

  4. Ann Ross says:

    The picture that comes back to me is all those people who, without stopping to think, ran toward where the bombs went off and  instantly began apply what help until medical help arrived. They saved many lives in doing so. 

  5. Julie says:

    The news this week was almost unbearably sad, and I’m grateful to all the people who share words of encouragement and hope.  The tension in my own workplace was palpable last week, and a friend told me “The events of the world live just underneath the surface of our own experience.”  Violence, hatred, tragedy – they affect us all and I have to remember to respond with compassion for everyone around me, even when they seem to be angry. They may just be in their own pain.  I am so grateful to have found this site and your newsletter. It has given me strength and helped me get a little closer to center during a difficult time in my life.

  6. David Ryan says:

    As usual, Ian, your thoughts are stimulating and helpful.  I like your focus on kindness because we usually identify that with actions whereas love and compassion are feeling oriented and can exist within me without being helpful.  My preferred word for our highest value is helping or helpfulness.   I think it is a little more action oriented and covers more situations than kindness.  Kindness is usually perceived as a gentleness or soft demeanor which is usually helpful but perhaps not always.  I could be kind to someone but my kind demeanor may not always be helpful.  I can also be helpful and not be kind.  The law enforcement officers were not what we would call kind in their shootout with the brothers but we certainly agree that they were helpful.  In helping the judge of helpfulness is the recipient of helping, the helpee.  I can’t say I am helpful unless the helpee agrees I am helpful.  I can feel love and compassion and not be helpful.  I can display kind behavior and not be helpful.    But I can’t be helpful unless the helpee says it is helpful.  The criteria of helping actually makes things more complicated which is more life like.  For example, acts of helpfulness for some must be weighed against potential harm for others.  Short term helpfulness must be weighed against long term helpfulness.  Helpfulness for humans must be weighed against harm for Earth and its other species.   And if the helpee doesn’t have the capacity to judge what is helpful like a child or a dementia patient, how do we find the right expertise that is truly helpful to them and not to just helpful to us.  I don’t think that kindness is a broad enough concept to deal with all of those situations.  Love, compassion, and kindness, in my opinion, are all ultimately  judged by the criteria of helpfulness.  That for me makes it our highest value and we should focus on that and supplement it with love, compassion, and kindness.

  7. ian says:

    hi David, as always you help me to see things from a new perspective. Thank you

  8. Pippa says:

    I find myself hooked in by the discussion re what constitutes helpfulness – and appreciate the acknowledgement that  when we are out to help others, the person we are helping most of all is often ourselves. But I am also mindful of the fact that we often don’t know what is helpful to others – those intended “helpful” actions might not be, whereas those that we were not conscious of, could turn out to be the very thing that worked for someone – even a sharing of vulnerability or getting it wrong – sharing one’s humanity I suppose, which is never easy when one is supposed to be the “expert”. In my work, in various forms of social work, I have had people thank me for “help” that they received which I can honestly say I did not consciously intend. It may have been my overall intention, but the particular thing that was helpful was , often enough, not a deliberate part of the plan. It makes for a certain humility – that in spite of what I do, my actions can still be helpful to others. I would go for being helpful underpinned by kindness – kindness to others and to ourselves – we can be hard task masters towards ourselves – and if we think we don’t deserve it, then offering it to others may come over as somewhat false. But a tricky one to get right – esp for anyone brought up on the “denial of self/putting others first way of thinking.  On a tough day, the fact that my co-worker thinks to make me a cup of tea so that when I rush into the office, with just enough time to put down some files and grab some more and head off somewhere else, I get to have a drink – it means sooooo much. Kindness in action. 

  9. kathy says:

    I like the comment, “Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach.” The question then becomes, how are we mending? If we are performing candlelight vigils, posting support on Facebook or similar, sending notes of support, etc, well then, we can do that anywhere at anytime (including Syria). I think it is human tendency to pay closer attention when it happens close to home, but it is vital that we take this opportunity to remember what happens on a daily basis in other countries. As one writer so aptly put it, “Today we are Bostonians; I am totally with that. But tomorrow can we be Pakistanis? And the next day Egyptians? See, that is how empathy works”. Many around the world live with the constant threat of bombings. I don’t know how they do it. May we all take this tragedy and turn it to good by starting to pay closer attention…

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