June 19, 2013
Written by Joe Pisani
Wednesday, 01 February 2012 00:00
During rush hour I stopped at the newsstand in Grand Central and picked up a book by the Dalai Lama about how to be compassionate. Then, I promptly sidestepped a poor man in a wheelchair who had his hand out for cash.
Does the city suck compassion out of us, or is compassion a commodity like pork bellies that you can trade on the market, by being compassionate to people who offer the greatest return on your investment. Give a little, get a lot ... in the spirit of capitalistic compassion.
Lately everyone is talking about compassion because there’s a sense we’ve lost part of our humanity in the self-obsessed quest for more.
The Occupy Wall Street movement has done a lot to stir up the debate, which leads me to wonder whether they could ever feel compassion for someone like Jamie Dimon, head of JPMorgan Chase, who made $23 million last year and riled protesters when he said it’s time to stop bashing the rich and thinking “because you’re rich you’re bad.”
A recent study by the University of California at Berkeley concluded the poor are more compassionate than the rich, largely because the rich miss the signs that people are suffering, not necessarily because of insensitivity but because they’re unfamiliar with them.
“Compassion” comes from the Latin com pati, which means “suffer with, feel pity.” In America, of course, it’s common to look the other way when someone is suffering.
This makes me wonder whether the poor man cares about the suffering of the rich man or does he believe that someone who has everything deserves to suffer?
In “Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life,” Karen Armstrong says compassion is the foundation of the world’s religions and must be reclaimed if civilization is going to survive, but the tragedy is that we’re more comfortable with the religious traditions of killing, maiming and condemning in the name of God than with the Golden Rule.
The Dalai Lama’s advice is to look at everyone as another human being just like yourself, instead of labeling people by their religion, politics and social status.
“Sometimes, when I meet someone and feel that I am a little better than this person, I look for some positive quality of the person,” he said. “He may have nice hair. I then think, ‘I am now bald, so from this point of view the person is much better than I am!’” I’m not crazy about that hair approach, but if it works, I’ll try it even though it means everyone with hair has a big advantage over me.
Looking for our common humanity keeps us from being arrogant and helps us recognize the divine in us all.
We come upon compassion in the strangest ways. I recently read about a man with prostate cancer, whose dog would sit near the bed while he recovered from surgery. Every day the dog would lick his face and ears to soothe his pain in a demonstration of canine compassion. I suspect the dog had a spark of the divine in her, too.
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