The Shadow of Compassion

A Spirituality of Nonviolence

Franciscan peacemakers Rosemary Lynch and Alain Richard have identified ten “commandments” for those seeking to live a spiritual life of nonviolence. They call it “The Decalogue for a Spirituality of Nonviolence”:

Active nonviolence calls us:

  1. To learn to recognize and respect “the sacred” in every person, including in ourselves, and in every piece of Creation. . . .
  2. To accept oneself deeply, “who I am” with all my gifts and richness, with all my limitations, errors, failings and weaknesses, and to realize that I am accepted by God. . . .
  3. To recognize that what I resent, and perhaps even detest, in another, comes from my difficulty in admitting that this same reality lives also in me. . . .
  4. To renounce dualism, the “we-they” mentality (Manicheism). This divides us into “good people/bad people” and allows us to demonize the adversary. It is the root of authoritarian and exclusivist behavior. It generates racism and makes possible conflicts and wars.
  5. To face fear and to deal with it not mainly with courage but with love.
  6. To understand and accept that the New Creation, the building up of the Beloved Community is always carried forward with others. It is never a “solo act.” . . .
  7. To see ourselves as a part of the whole creation to which we foster a relationship of love, not of mastery, remembering that the destruction of our planet is a profoundly spiritual problem, not simply a scientific or technological one. We are one.
  8. To be ready to suffer, perhaps even with joy, if we believe this will help liberate the Divine in others. This includes the acceptance of our place and moment in history with its trauma, with its ambiguities.
  9. To be capable of celebration, of joy, when the presence of God has been accepted, and when it has not been to help discover and recognize this fact.
  10. To slow down, to be patient, planting the seeds of love and forgiveness in our own hearts and in the hearts of those around us. Slowly we will grow in love, compassion and the capacity to forgive.

Can We? .. Not Sure

The quality of compassion is derived by “giving from the heart.” Where does compassion, itself come from?

Quote from Etty Hillesum’s diary and, after being yelled at and threatened by a Gestapo agent she writes: “I am not easily frightened. Not because I am brave but because I know that I am dealing with human beings and that I must try as hard as I can to understand everything that anyone ever does. And that was the real import of this morning: not that a disgruntled young Gestapo officer yelled at me, but that I felt no indignation, rather a real compassion, and would have liked to ask: ‘Did you have a very unhappy childhood, has your girlfriend let you down?’” 

In our world and the entirety of our human history, we have had the opportunity for compassion, nonviolence, and harmony but we have always chosen something else. I am not saying that people aren’t compassionate. I am saying that we understand compassion as human beings, but we choose to live in the shadow of compassion.

Why “the shadow” as opposed to the light of compassion?

Compassion is a beautiful thing. Most of us are familiar with the word but what exactly is it? Compassion is more than empathy. Empathy is feeling the feelings of another or understanding the feelings of another as your own. Compassion adds to that with the strong desire to alleviate the suffering of the other person. It is bonding to feel compassionate with another, it is connecting; we are suffering along with…not pitying or looking down on the other person. -Deanna Cochran based on discussions by Judith Lief.

History teaches us that we have the ability as human beings to be empathetic and further, understand and comprehend in the depths of our being the feelings associated with connectedness. We understand as a people these feelings and the value, yet we act in ways that are counterintuitive on a grand scale.

If we all lived our days as if they were our last and we cared about the impact those last moments had on others, what would our world be like?

I suppose some would want to burn the world down in a hateful jealous rage. It is also likely that people would express the most kindness they’ve ever felt through the entirety of their lives. Why? Because there is nothing to gain in the physical world at the edge of our human existence. We can only be a memory and if we are forgotten, all is potentially lost. Most people don’t realize that everyone at some point in history is bound to be forgotten. If we were taught this at a very young age, would it make a difference? Would we fight for resources? Would we kill and destroy for power? I ask these questions, but I think we would do these things not because we have a lack of understanding but more because we are animals. This we forget.

A lion is not empathetic and holds no compassion for a gazelle, it simply catches, kills, and consumes. It is possible that even with our consciousness and our depth of understanding, that as a whole, the sum and body, we are no different than any other animal on this planet.

Back to Etty for a moment:

“Everywhere things are both very good and very bad at the same time. The two are in balance, everywhere and always. I never have the feeling that I have got to make the best of things; everything is fine just as it is. Every situation, however miserable, is complete in itself and contains the good as well as the bad.” In touch with the equilibrium of a bigger picture she is aware of, she continuously draws from this place to find meaning in her current reality. 

Etty Hillesum was murdered at Auschwitz on November 30, 1943, six weeks before her 30th birthday.

Death finds us all but compassion, empathy and understand does not.

The question of nonviolent communication and nonviolence overall is not one of “when” but one of “if” and for this, I would enjoy some hope and faith that we can find a way to achieve it. As usual, I suggest that we can at this time only achieve some aspect of this today as individuals. If we do our part, even in some small way, we may embed some piece of this into our DNA and possibly be more than a lion or a lamb.

Etty died almost 79 years ago but I’ll share, I cried for her today.

We should all be so lucky to find empathy and compassion in our lives, along with understanding in such a way that we are OK with today as it is in all its forms.

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