by Rev. Robert V. Thompson
This article was originally published on October 2, 2013 by Wood Lake Publishing.
Several months ago, the school clerk at the McNair School in Decatur, Georgia, was unexpectedly greeted by a gunman who approached her desk. The first words out of his mouth were, “I don’t have any reason to live and I know I am going to die today.” Antoinette Tuff admits feeling terrified, but she stayed calm. She sat patiently and listened as the armed and dangerous young man poured out his pain. She listened to him with openness and empathy. Then she shared a story of great pain from her own life and encouraged the gunman not to give in to despair. After some time of give and take conversation, this incident ended miraculously without anyone being shot.
What does compassion change? In a word: Everything.
I am reminded of the story about a businessman from Kansas City who was attending a conference in a faraway city. Wanting to see the countryside, he decided to travel on the back roads rather than the freeways, but after many hours of driving he realized he was lost. Seeing a farmer tending his field by the side of the road, he stopped to ask for directions.
“Can you tell me how far it is to Chicago?”
The farmer scratched his head. “Sorry, I don’t rightly know.”
“Well,” said the businessman, “can you tell me how far I am from New York?”
Again the farmer answered, “I don’t rightly know.”
Frenzied and frustrated, the businessman asked, “Can you at least tell me the way to the main road?”
The farmer removed his hat and shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t rightly know, sir.”
The angry man shot back, “Well you don’t know much do you?”
“Nope,” said the farmer. “But I ain’t lost.”
In this life we all know what it is like to feel lost. But the miracle and mystery is that whenever we connect with others, whenever this life journey is shared, we no longer feel lost. Perhaps compassion is our spiritual compass.
And what is compassion?
This is the question that many around the world are asking. This rising consciousness around compassion is due in part to a nascent movement of promise, rooted in the Charter for Compassion. Thus far nearly 100,000 people have signed the Charter. Have you signed on? Do it now.
In the Charter for Compassion there is one sentence that nails it: “Compassion impels us to work tirelessly to alleviate the suffering of our fellow creatures, to dethrone ourselves from the centre of our world and put another there, and to honour the inviolable sanctity of every single human being, treating everybody, without exception, with absolute justice, equity, and respect.”
What is compassion?
This is the question my friends engaged in the Compassionate Action Network International have been asking each other. Here’s my answer.
Compassion is a state of mind, a state of being. It is indeed the capacity to “dethrone ourselves from the centre of our world and put another there.” Compassion is a consciousness that sees we are all interdependent and interrelated. Deep down, we, who are many, are one. Compassion is not some feel-good, kumbayah moment – though I am not opposed to feel-good moments!
Compassion is the capacity to suffer with those who suffer. Compassion is the capacity to share the pain, to connect with joy and suffering because connecting is its own reward. Compassion is the capacity to connect. Compassion is the capacity to see you in me, and me in you. Compassion is a lens through which we see the life we live and share. Every life lived in this consciousness is full of meaning and hope.
Whenever we recognize this deep and divine unity, we are called to action. Compassion is finally about how we live and dream, and what we create together.
Inspired by this vision, I am working with my friends, neighbours, and the interfaith community to invite and encourage Metro Atlanta to join the Compassionate Cities movement. Indeed, if compassion inspires you to action please consider organizing others where you live to become active partners of the Charter for Compassion.
It is time to do something that will make a difference. Will you join your sisters and brothers around the world? Come on, all together now!
The 13th century mystic/poet Rumi put it well: “Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and right doing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there. When the soul lies down on that grass, the world is too full to talk about. Ideas, language, even the phrase ‘each other’ doesn’t make any sense”.
What does compassion change? Just ask Antoinette Tuff, the students, and the parents of the McNair School in Decatur, Georgia, and they will tell you. Compassion changes everything. “When the soul lies down on that grass”….
Published with the author’s permission.
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