Talking with a friend today about compassion. Her view is probably closer to Tibetan Buddhism than mine.
Seems to me compassion ultimately boils down to an awareness of how it all is. By “all,” I mean life, death, the universe, and everything. I also think one needs not to be caught up in one’s own drama in order to have compassion. If I’m busy interpreting “how it all is” in the light of my own boring little drama, I won’t have compassion for others.
The idea “I’m nobody special” is part of compassion.
John Donne said, “No man is an island.” That sums it up, as does the old adage, “Walk a mile in my shoes.”
An essential problem with the conservative world view — the reason why conservatives lack compassion — is that they view each individual as an island. You can see this very clearly in the work of Ayn Rand, who is a sort of sage among libertarian conservatives. She was brought up in Russia and saw the horrors of the Russian revolution first-hand. She hated communism with a passion — primarily, one suspects, because the communists (or perhaps they were Communists, not communists) took away the things she and her family valued.
Communism is pretty much a mess as a political philosophy, but it’s based on the very sensible idea that we should all have compassion for one another, because we’re all in this together. Jesus was clearly preaching a form of communism. But Ayn Rand’s whole world view is based on the idea that nobody owes anything to anybody else. She symbolizes this idea, in Atlas Shrugged, using gold coinage — the monetary system based on the gold standard, the free market, and so on. One’s personal worth, in Rand’s philosophy, will inevitably be reflected in the market value of one’s labor. This value system is childish and absurd, but there are a lot of people who believe it.
Conservatism is based in fear — fear that there won’t be enough, that I won’t get mine. Compassion says, “If you get what you need, that’s just as important as if I get what I need, because I’m nobody special.”
The trick is, it’s easy to feel compassion when your basic needs are being met. Roof over my head? Money in the bank? Ah, I can embrace the world! If you’re in Auschwitz or something, having compassion for the guards is bound to be a whole lot harder.