“Our human compassion binds us the one to the other – not in pity or patronizingly, but as human beings who have learnt how to turn our common suffering into hope for the future.” ~ Nelson Mandela
Human compassion is a wondrous thing, and we all like to think we have it. I know I like to think I’m a compassionate person, which is why I’m rather cross with myself right now. I’m going to tell a very personal tale, but I think it may have wider implications.
I’m sitting in a public library, a place open to all. And here in New York City, not all of the people who come here are fresh and sweet smelling. A lot of homeless people spend winter days in the library. Many of them smell quite bad and it makes it difficult for me to concentrate.
And so the internal war begins. I don’t want them smelling up my working area, which is fair. But if they leave this nice, warm, safe library, they are consigned to the streets. I can go somewhere else, but their options are limited. They have every right to be here, reading quietly, no different from me. I’m angry with myself for my lack of compassion.
It’s easy to be compassionate sometimes. “Women and children,” “wounded warriors” and “poor defenseless animals” bring out the best in us. But some people don’t invite our sympathy. Compassion becomes more difficult to dredge up.
I am not saying I should take them all to lunch, but I would like to sit here and work without shooting nasty looks and curling a lip. (I’m working very hard to do neither.) I would like to be equally polite and friendly to all who share my work space.
I’m working on me. And I thought I’d share because compassion is such a buzz word, but what does it really mean? Not all of us are called to be a Mother Theresa, working with the poorest of the poor, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t called to treat people with dignity no matter what the circumstances are. How do we find the balance between personal comfort and others’ right to a place at the table, in this case, quite literally, but metaphorically as well?
I have no answers. In fact, I’m happy just to be asking the question today. A bit off the track of my usual meanderings, but just thought I’d put it out there.