Compassion for Suffering – Suffering for Compassion.

People have a strong capacity for compassion yet seems to apply it selectively, Is compassion dependent on degree of suffering or closeness to the victim?

I can’t change the world so I’ll change the world within my reach.” (Casey Curtis)

She lay in the grass, very still, tail flat and breathing heavily. He sat beside her, feeling the cold and damp of the ground through his shorts and on his bare torso and legs. It was early morning and the sun was only gradually pushing away the darkness and the feeble rays of moonlight, which had, in any case, largely been hidden by the clouds.

He gazed down, affectionately at her and whispered softly. There were the unmistakable marks of dried tears on his cheeks. His nose was oozing and his face, lined, disturbed and sad. She didn’t seem to respond, as usually she would have, to his gentle encouragement or the movements of his hand over her hair. His attempts to comfort her didn’t seem to change anything. He wondered if she understood or whether his words were simply an indecipherable and unwelcome irritation for her. He felt helpless and ineffective. In thinking this, he stopped and sat back to just look at her, tears once more rolling down his cheeks. She pushed her muzzle against his hand, as though to reassure him – as though to say, “It’s alright. I know that you need to do this. I’m here for you; please don’t be distressed.”

She had been there for him for 12 years now. She had always been sensitive to his feelings and when she knew that the black dog had bitten him once more, she would put her forelegs onto his chest and push him down. Then she would hold him there until he slowed down and relaxed. Once he was settled, she would curl up against his legs and comfort him.

His mind was turmoil of confused thoughts, feelings and emotion. It was disturbing for one usually so analytical and ordered. He felt that he was out of his depth. He felt guilty. Why had she developed this illness? What had he done wrong or failed to do to allow this to happen? “You don’t deserve this”, he said to her, “It isn’t fair. If I could transfer it to myself I would do so in an instant.” He laid his hand gently on her back and sat like that for some time. She, turned and licked his fingers, then lowered her head and rested it on the grass. She seemed strangely content.

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Later, when they were back inside the house and she was resting in her basket, he tried to sort through the maze of thoughts that drew crazy patterns in his mind. Guilt, anger, compassion, hurt, hypocrisy, ingratitude, need, and hopelessness – combined to torment him.

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Roger and his dog Fran

He was behind with his work – well behind – and, at a time when he’d thought he’d just got over initial problems, a severe lack of confidence and urge to run and hide. He knew, as he sat there, that he was a coward and that he had no right to feel as he did. He knew that around the World there were so many people and yes, even animals, living – even barely living – in horrific conditions and suffering so much more than Fran or himself. He had always tried to be aware of others and unselfish. He’d tried to recognise that however bad his situation seemed there would be others in worse ones. Yet now, he felt conflicted, torn between the need to care for her and the need to devote time to his work. It bothered him that there was such a vast discrepancy between children living in refugee camps, working as indentured labour in Indian brick works or struggling along the road with their families, as refugees. How could he reconcile his desperate feelings about his dog with the horrendous situation of those people?

He thought of the 1 in 6 children between the age of 5 and 14 who were at work in the majority world and the one in 8 that were not at primary school, some 67 million absentees. The fact of 2.6 billion people living on less than $2 per day when he’d just paid out over AUD $400 for medicine for his dog seemed so at odds with what he believed and he wondered whether he wasn’t a complete hypocrite and as bad as the corrupt politicians and multi-national profit takers. After all, pet dogs had only become so as a sign of affluence – a statement to others that, “look, I’m so well off that I can afford to feed a completely useless mouth”. Did it make a difference that this animal was his friend and companion. Was it relevant that the animal had helped him through depression of the worst sort and seemed to sense his need. When 34% of the World’s population were undernourished and 5.9 billion people were living in countries considered to be significantly corrupt could he really justify this expenditure, either of money or compassion? He didn’t know. His mind was too full to understand.

He wasn’t ignorant of this – indeed, most of his time was spent in attempting to change it. Yet, how hypocritical was this, he thought, attempting to make some difference in world problems when he couldn’t even look after his dog or meet a deadline. Then, selfishly, of course, he became even more depressed and self-flagellating at being so moribundly encapsulated in his own misery whilst professing to care for and lobby for the rights of others. At that moment he thoroughly despised himself.

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His article was already well overdue. Ironically, it was one he had expected to be a relatively simple exercise. In fact he had written about two and a half times what was normally expected, as well as creating a spreadsheet to highlight features and factors of difference among the charities he was reviewing. Despite all this, the article wasn’t finished. It still needed clarification and explanation. As he’d worked on it he’d realised that the area was far more complex than he’d thought and his difficulty was to attempt to present it in an accessible way in around 1000 to 1500 words.

Perhaps, he thought, he just wasn’t suited to such work. His “colleagues”, if he could be so bold as to distinguish himself as being of them, were kind and supportive, as were his family. There seemed to be readers and some positive feedback for at least some of his work. Yet wasn’t this an illustration of exactly why he wasn’t capable and should not presume to be so?

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His thoughts turned to the people for whom he wanted to bring change. The bombing of a Medicine Sans Frontieres hospital in Afghanistan by American warplanes, killing patients and doctors had horrified him. Yet, as tragic as the deaths were, as strange as it might seem, there was a sense for him that an even worse tragedy was that of a senior American spokesman speaking of the tragedy as “collateral damage.” What had happened to the minds of human beings that they could euphemistically dismiss the deaths of these innocent human beings, models of bravery, of selflessness and of compassion as just, in effect, an acceptable means to an end. Not only that, but an end unspecified, probably unachievable and of dubious motivation in the eyes of many.

How could this be – that the so-called leaders of the “Free World” could be so callous. Were it just one of their own, there would be national outrage. No expense would be spared to retrieve the bodies and ceremony and speeches would accompany their repatriation and burial at home. What sort of hypocrisy was this and why is it that the lives of ordinary people are just pawns in the games of the arrogant, the wealthy, the glamorous and decorated and “very important people” who rule and manipulate our lives – apparently, when one really examines what stands behind the rhetoric, for their own ends, not those of the people they purport to represent, let alone of those that they profess to aim to “rescue” or “help”.

It may seem that a dog with bone cancer is of little significance compared to a human being with malaria, diabetes, cancer, amputate limbs or whatever and perhaps it is. The point is that human feelings are universal but relative to each person’s situation. The fact is that most people identify more closely with events and people that lie within the familiar context of their lives. The further the distance of the person from the tragedy, the less likely they are to be particularly concerned about it. The more likely they are to suggest that the problem belongs to someone else. It doesn’t. However, those feelings remain universal and that is why individuals voluntarily give billions more than do the governments that supposedly work for them.

Solving crisis situation such as that in Syria, let alone all of the conflicts and tragedy in the World will not be achieved by threats, warfare or actual conflict. It has never ever made for a better world and there is no reason to believe that it will do so now.

How is it that the World’s nations apparently have no difficulty in spending a combined total (2013 figures) of $1.7 trillion dollars on armaments – instruments of destruction – yet people go hungry when the estimated cost of eliminating world hunger is a mere $30 billion dollars per year? Wouldn’t one think that helping others to have a decent life, free from fear and with adequate facilities would be a better way to resolve difference than bombing?

In my view, it is utilising universal values and feelings such as that of compassion that give us the best chance to resolve conflict and build a better, more equitable and safe world. We have the technology. We have a remarkable number of people who support such an approach. Unfortunately, our “leaders” don’t get it. We need to show them – one step, one word, one touch, at a time.

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“Our human compassion binds us the one to the other – not in pity or patronisingly, but as human beings who have learned how to turn our common suffering into hope for the future.” (Nelson Mandela)

Some relevant reading:

39 Billion

Peace and the Planet

World poverty – country by country

Arms Trade

Global compassion

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"The Spade" by Roger Hawcroft
Roger Hawcroft

Roger is an online activist & library consultant living in Queensland, Australia. Roger has a diverse work background in both public and private sectors and large and small organisations. Her has degrees in teaching and library & information science. Roger is keen to contribute to a more equitable and peaceful society. Roger feels that his own struggle with an autism spectrum disorder have given him awareness of the difficulties & stigma that is the lot of the disadvantaged every where. He is particularly interested in social justice and human rights and in reversing the trend towards "blaming the victim" in society.
3 Comments on this post.
  • Silvie Vale
    Sylvie Vale
    20 October 2015 at 12:25 pm
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    Thank you Roger for this beautiful article! I’m really sorry about Fran. I believe that dogs and any other animals are as deserving to have shelter, food and love as human beings are. This was a very touching story and your message should be heard by world leaders. Perhaps they would see things more clearly and make wiser decisions.

  • Vi Vi
    20 October 2015 at 2:53 pm
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    “Our human compassion binds us the one to the other – not in pity or patronisingly, but as human beings who have learned how to turn our common suffering into hope for the future.” Mandela <3

    • Clara
      9 February 2016 at 4:39 am
      Leave a Reply

      That’s cleared my thoughts. Thanks for coutirbnting.

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