Compassion Wake Up Call

Written by Plant With Purpose on June 24, 2009 in General

by Aly Lewis

Most of the time, I think I’m pretty great. You know, I’m relatively nice (aside from my biting sarcasm), I’ve never killed anybody (at least not to my knowledge) and on top of all the sugar and spice and everything nice, I work at a nonprofit dedicated to improving the lives of the voiceless, forgotten, and overlooked rural poor. I am just stacking up those good person points.

So imagine my surprise when I was reading Compassion by Henri Nouwen—a book I thought would be about fostering all of this happy, selfless, compassion inside of me—and in the preface, before the book even starts to get underway, he dashes my hopes that people are naturally selfless and compassionate. In fact, he says, “For those who do not live in a dream world and keep their eyes open to the facts of life, compassion can at most be a small and subservient part of our competitive existence.”

At first I was slightly offended, thinking Maybe other people aren’t naturally compassionate, but not me, I am selfless and giving and have a heart of gold.

Then I realized I was guilty as charged: I had turned compassion into a competition. Appearing more compassionate than others is a vital part of my identity; however, being truly compassionate “would require giving up the dividing lines and relinquishing differences and distinctions. And that would mean losing our identities.”

Talk about a good kick in the compassion pants.

What I can rest assured in, however, is the idea that regardless of where I fall on the compassion continuum, there is always room to grow and improve. And ultimately, “I am not the esteem I can collect through competition, but the love I have freely received from God.”

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