Thursday, August 10, 2023

compassion: a harsh mistress


Die Mütter, woodcut, Käthe Kollwitz, 1921-22.

Dear Traveler Through Time On the Head of a Pin,

Have you ever written someone off so completely, at the individual cellular level; like, this person is irredeemable, wasn't worth the oxygen they used, and nothing that ever came from, circulated around them, could have been anything but negativity, only to discover in the tiniest artifact, the smallest gesture, a softening in your self?  Just their red pen writing on the outside of the manilla folder melts your icy battlements?  You suddenly feel:  Oh!  They really do have some qualities, and the whole of my relationship with them has not been just ashes after all!

Well, the feeling passes of course, but my point (if I have one), is that the softening might not be the part of compassion that we are supposed to be aiming for- it might be, it might be that the message is: maybe you don't need to build such a complete wall, such a total severing.

Hear me out, I know why I built it.  It's like the Post-It note you stick on the phone that says "NO!"  It is meant to protect yourself from annoyance and pain, from making the same old mistakes.  So, you build this big edifice out of solid bricks of rationalization, and then the tiniest, slimmest little memory, little piffling thought seeps right through, tunnels right under, and there you are, having lunch again with someone you said you'd 'never' spend time with again.

What might be better, I ask myself?  I think the tremendous effort of being compassionate- which, for the sake of this conversation, will be defined* as 'putting the feelings of others before yours'- is a pretty large burden.  Maybe this is the problem right here, compassion as I have defined it, is asking too much sometimes.  Where is the self?  Selflessness is all very well, but, evaporating into the yielding ether does not always work for me.

 Maybe, and this is completely different project, these letters/blog should be renamed, re-branded (?), "Have You Ever?"  Let it be part of your song for today.

*  A dictionary definition.  An expansive, etymological definition.  A source for more reading on the topic.