Friday, January 12, 2018

Compassion Doesn't Have a Circle

Growing up, I remember an incident on the playground that involved a pratfall and, of course, the inevitable teasing. When we got back into the classroom, many were still giggling. The teacher, whose name I don't recall, directed us to silence. Then we heard a passionate speech, from the teacher, about compassion and concern for others. "Others," we were told, "included but was not limited to friends and family. Others meant everyone. EVERYONE. Compassion is without bias."

This is one of the really memorable moments of my school years. I remember it making me think. I also think this was the first time the word 'bias' entered my head in a meaningful way. This teacher and those words must have been bubbling under my consciousness the last time we went shopping because they quickly sprang to mind. A woman was pushing a stroller through a small crowd of 5 or 6 other shoppers and they moved quickly and without comment for her creating a passageway.

I know much better than to attempt the same thing so I headed around. Another wheelchair user, a woman much younger than myself got herself caught between the small crowd and a shopper behind her wanting to get past. She pushed through and I heard her "Excuse me" several times and saw the request ignored. Finally she tapped one of the shoppers on the arm and they grumbled and complained as they made space for her.

Compassion for some but not others doesn't exist.

Honouring privilege and practicing discrimination does.

The incident on the playground involved one of the classroom misfits, a group to which I belonged, and there is no question in my mind that if it happened to one of the other popular kids there would have been an approach by the other kids that involved the words, "Are you okay?" I also bet that there would have been a helpful reaction devoid of the kind of teasing that had actually happened.

Maybe I'm wrong.

But my heart, after having been schooled in living with differences, tells me that I'm probably not.

Many people feel compassionate and caring because they are there for their friends and family and they are supporting of those in their circle.

Compassion doesn't have a circle.

I learned how to add and subtract in math. But I also learned how addition and subtraction worked in the world outside the classroom window. I learned that some people have added value that leads to the privilege of expecting the best of the world. Others have their value subtracted and minimized that leads to an understanding of the world as a place without compassion and welcome.

Compassion doesn't have a circle. I need to remember that. 

For as much as some can't see it, I'm human too.


Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt said...

People get exhausted by compassion much too quickly, because it inconveniences them.

A stroller says 'temporary inconvenience.' A wheelchair says 'is always going to be inconveniencing me,' even thought at that moment both inconvenience them about the same.

It's all about them.

But just let the kid in the stroller start making unhappy noises, and the person pushing the stroller will get a lot of nasty glances and little help. Now the stroller is inconveniencing them more.

Adelaide Dupont said...

I know, Alicia! About how exhausting compassion can be.

Compassion is infinite - ideally.

There's burnout and fatige.

"Both inconvenience them about the same".