“Compassion is the emotion that one feels in response to the suffering of others that motivates a desire to help.” is what Wikipedia tells us. While it is easy to find compassion for victims of brutality, finding it for the perpetrators is another matter as is evidenced in the blog post by Jo Robinson I came across that alerted me to the cause of “1000 voices speak for compassion”. (https://africolonialstories.wordpress.com/2015/02/20/does-everyone-deserve-compassion/)
I am normally not too religiously inclined, but that post brought a quote to mind that made me think about this some more from a perspective that could help create more compassion. “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing” Luke 23-34. It seems that Jesus felt compassion for the people that put him on the cross. A more current example is the Dalai Lama, who is today’s main advocator for compassion. Despite all the violence committed against him and his beloved country of Tibet, he is able to find compassion for the perpetrators! How is it that there are actually people out there that firmly believe that forgiveness and compassion is the right response to combat violence? Our “normal” response would generally at least be a good beating or jail to punish the person that is committing the violence. After all they had a choice of not doing it, or did they?
From psychological research it appears that humans form most of their beliefs, habits and understanding of the world and society they grow up in during the first 6 years of their lives. They do this by absorbing habits and ideas of those closest to them, like immediate family. This immediate family mostly acts on their beliefs formed in their childhood with a few added more current ones they have taken on board deliberately by “free” choices colored by their society and culture’s ideas of moral and justice. Thinking about this I cannot help but question how free our choices really are? How much of what we believe is really our very own opinion? How much is absorbed from the media, friends and family?
It is not until we truly question those beliefs within, that we can realize how wrong some of them can be. There are many games and movies based on the subject of justice and revenge and who doesn’t have a little feel good moment when the bad guy gets his serve? But really think about it, if you were a bad guy getting your serve, wouldn’t you feel even more hatred towards this underdog? Who does he think he is, that he can do that to you? He needs to be punished some more! Can you see where this is going?
In my own life this “justified” retaliation has been evident in a lingering undercurrent of hatred towards the Germans in Europe. Even now there are people that feel it justified to double charge a German tourist or break the antenna of a car with German license plates parked in a country that was occupied by previous generations seventy years ago! Those actions seem insignificant compared to what the Germans did, right?
We now know that the majority of Germans at that time had no idea about what happened in those camps that their rulers conveniently covered up as work camps. They allowed Hitler to rise on promises for a more prosperous future during a time of recession and poverty, unaware of the hidden agenda until it was too late. They acted in favor of him, believing he would fix their dire situation. By the time some started waking up to the evil that was happening, it was too late to speak up or they too would have become victims.
From this we can conclude that we all have the potential of serious violence in us, if we are directly threatened or brainwashed (as in taken on false beliefs), but the majority of us is mostly peace loving with a few minor flaws. There is a real danger in most modern societies now, with movies, games and even the news subtly influencing our sense of justice and need for revenge, increasing their violence ever more to keep the audience entertained, that this need for revenge will bite us on the bum one day.
We need to question what revenge actually achieves and makes us into. Would empathy and compassion not create a better understanding of the real reason behind violent actions that are committed, based upon the false belief that they will relieve a threat in some perverted way? Do they REALLY KNOW what they are doing?