There’s a marked absence of compassion in UK government policy right now. Whether it’s in the heartless plan to send UK asylum seekers 4000 miles away to Rwanda for processing and residency or the progressive removal of mobility allowances from many disabled people, the tardy provision of visas for Ukrainian families fleeing warfare and violence or the lack of concern for the poor as fuel prices and the cost of living spirals upwards (two thirds of the British cabinet are millionaires), there is a coldness and disregard for those less fortunate who suffer. I suspect that this does not reflect the sentiments of the British people either, but like so much political rhetoric it’s dressed up as a necessary requirement for the times in which we live, peddling the lie that there’s not enough to go round.
I make no apology for this political introduction, because at Easter we have been reminded once again how political expediency works, with the unholy alliance of the Roman occupying forces, their puppet king and the Jewish religious leaders requiring the death of Jesus for daring to challenge what they stood for. His challenge was to offer an alternative way, where achievement, affluence and appearance were not the dominant values. Right at the heart of this alternative way of living is compassion; in the Kingdom of Heaven, loving God and loving others is supreme.
Compassion is central to Twelve Step recovery too, yet another shared hallmark which this blog seeks to highlight. Compassion means “to feel with,” usually in relation to feeling the suffering of somebody else and being moved by that suffering to do something to help them. We’ve talked about mercy in a previous blog (Mercy, Mercy), but compassion is different. Mercy implies some sort of power relationship and possibly the presence of wrong-doing or falling short. Compassion does not have this power dynamic at all – it is simply one human being to another. In the words of William Blake, “Mercy wears a human face, compassion a human heart.”
According to Jesus, compassion is the central quality of a life faithful to God. He tells us to “be compassionate as God is compassionate.” The idea of God being compassionate towards us is potentially life changing. We often think of God as harsh and judgmental possibly tempered by mercy, but compassion means he is alongside us, with a human heart. We are to model this behaviour, and Jesus, the visible image of the invisible God is our pattern or template. There are many instances of Jesus being filled with compassion for somebody – invariably this preceded him healing and restoring them. One of his greatest parables, The Good Samaritan showed us the compassionate behaviour of a traveller who belonged to a despised and outcast race who sees a fellow traveller who has been beaten and robbed and proceeds to rescue and care for him at his own expense. Prior to this the injured man had been ignored by high status people of his own country. In modern day terms, the politician and the priest have passed by with more important things to do, it is the refugee who shows compassion.
Compassion within 12 step recovery is perhaps understandable because every recovering addict has been there too, so can understand the pain and struggle another is going through, both in active addiction and early recovery. People working the programme enter the suffering of other addicts with neither pity nor pride and their caring is frequently both tireless and humbling. It is seen in the way newcomers are treated, which helps them to find a place of emotional warmth and understanding. It is there too in the welcome and acceptance each person receives when attending a new meeting in another place or country. Compassion is woven throughout the programme and is an important factor in the healing, transformational power it holds.
Like gratitude, humility or generosity we must practice compassion so that it becomes an established part of our daily living. The initial “feeling for” someone is often outside our control – we feel pity or sympathy for them without needing to generate it. What we must work at is the response, in which we then do something to help them. Our first reaction is to do something, but very quickly our mind (or other people) tell us it will be too difficult, too costly, too little or just plain misunderstood. We have to practice taking that step to make things better for the person we feel compassionate towards and ignoring the multitude of reasons we might find for not doing so. Remember how life changing it was for us when somebody helped us out of kindness and compassion?
As a friend of mine often reminds me, all of us are wounded, bandaged travellers on the road, sometimes wayward, often lost, invariably pretending that we are okay, but always, always in need of compassion, longing to be free, hungry for heaven. In the words of the Dalai Lama, “love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive.”