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Our collective condition: On the topic of compassion

Published: March 7, 2019   

Did you know there are sages living among us in these modern times? We are surrounded by them. If you want words of wisdom, strike up a conversation with one of our aging parish members or a senior person in your life. No amount of book-smarts can compare to life experiences, to the many perspectives that we all gain as we live and endure challenges – ups and downs – not only through our own personal experiences and hardships, but through those of the people we love as well.

Recently, a wise man in our church family wrote me a note asking me to write an article on the topic of compassion and he had already done the research.

Here are a few excerpts of what he penned to me:

“Food for Thought”

“Webster’s New World Dictionary defines compassion as sorrow for the sufferings or trouble of another; with the urge to help; deep sympathy or pity.”

“Compassion is being kind,caring, cheerful, and nice.”

"Compassion is believing in faith,hope and charity for your fellow human beings.”

“Compassion is being friendly,gentle and generous.”

 “Compassion is not repeating idlegossip.”

“Compassion is walking in another’sshoes.”

“Tears appear when your river of compassion overflows.”

Readings that teach the most important life lessons are found in the Bible, many in the form of parables. Here is my attempt at writing a parable poem to further explore today’s topic of compassion:

"A ram and a goat went walking one day.

One didn’t like what the other had to say.

Bickering, brawling, bawling fools,

They used their mighty horns as tools,

Tools of destruction, fueled by spite;

They clashed and clamored into the night.

After forty thousand times of butting heads with each other,

The goat realized that the ram was his brother.

Not of the same species, one hairy, one wooled,

Yet, the goat discovered that he’d been fooled.

Fooled by his ancestors to believe in his plight,

That the ram’s ways were wrong and his were right.

So what if the ram has balls of steel!?

Is that something that can even be real?

“The buck stops here," the goat said with regret,

Not seeing how fighting got his needs met.

“No more battles for me,” he said with a sway;

Then turned his battered back to walk away.

But the ram plunged pridefully, and sinewy ligaments tore,

Through the goat’s heart, sending his spirit to soar.

Across green pastures to the stars it took flight,

Thanking the ram for making things right.

No longer must he be clipped by another.

He was finally free to fully recover.

He drifted away with one resolute ambition,

To somehow improve the collective condition.

Did you know that goats and sheep are two completely different species of animals? Considering that a toy poodle and a German shepherd are both in the canine family, it greatly surprised me to learn that goats and sheep are not somewhat the same! The idea for this poem came to me when I began researching the differences between the two. For example, while goats grow hair that needs an occasional clipping, sheep have wool that is sheared yearly.

Any male goat is called a billy or a buck, that’s why in line 15, I wrote, “The buck stops here…,” while only the male sheep that has not been castrated is called a ram. One ram can breed up to thirty ewes in one breeding season, which I refer to line 13.

Finally, in line 21, the phrase, “…green pastures,” is from Psalm 21, and is there to show that the goat finally realizes that God had fully provided for him in his life. Unfortunately, he did not recognize it until he was on his way out of this world, but he thanks the ram (line 22), and is not afraid of dying(line 24).

So, after reading this story, do you feel compassion for the goat or for the ram? Which one tugs on your heart strings? For which one would you shed a tear? Which one would you feel sorrow for, have the urge to help, be kind to, and generous toward?

Many will side with the goat. Why? Because he is tattered and torn, and he is the one who grows in his understanding. We may identify more closely with him.

However, although it is much harder to feel compassion for the prideful ram, perhaps he is the one who needs it the most. We have not walked in his shoes, so to speak – on his hooves. The ram has not yet reached the same level of understanding as the goat. He may suffer, perhaps feel isolated; we don’t know his story. In situations such as this, we must lean on our faith and our hope and our charitable sides, demonstrating kindness and gentleness, understanding that if we lead by example, he may follow.

But why choose one over the other? This does nothing more than continue to divide us. Albert Einstein once said, “Peace cannot be kept by force. It can only be achieved by understanding.” Through our understanding that everyone is on their own path in the world, learning their own life lessons, and by our demonstrating gentle compassion (understanding of this), our kind words may be just the encouragement they need to reach the next step up.

When will we all step up and present ourselves as examples of how we want all people in our world to treat each other, not only by showing compassion for our fellow man (and woman) in general, but doing this in our personal relationships too?

Matthew 5:23-24 says, “…if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar. First, go and be reconciled to your brother, then come and offer your gift.” This is not limited to your immediate family either, for we are all sisters and brothers with Christ, connected by our God spirits.

Taking it one step further, in 1642, Sir Thomas Browne was the first to write, “Charity begins at home,” to which he added, “is the voice of the world: yet is every man his greatest enemy.” So before we try to reach out to anyone else, we must first be kind and gentle –compassionate – with ourselves.

Jesus provided the ultimate example of compassion when from the cross He said, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do,” Luke 23:34. May we follow His altruistic example by demonstrating our love for and compassionate understanding of everyone we encounter.

Finally, the ancient art of Kintsugi is a Japanese technique of repairing broken objects by mending the cracks with gold. They believe that when something has been damaged and has a history, it should not be discarded, but rather becomes more beautiful. Highlighting the damaged portions with gold creates a piece of art that not only becomes more desirable than something newly purchased but greatly increases in value for its uniqueness; no two pieces are the same.

Why not apply this belief to people as well? In doing so, we may more easily focus on the intrinsic value and potential in every soul we encounter, including our own.

Today, I honor the gentleman who took the time to write and then mail that note to me seeking to share his wisdom and help us learn to be more compassionate people. You know who you are, and we know what you are, golden.

Please join me in sending up heartfelt gratitude for him and the many sages like him who dwell among us, who if only we would ask, could serve to heighten and improve our collective condition while we are still alive to enjoy it. 

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