This past week I have been thinking a great deal about compassion. I should also add that I have been put in a position to really give it some deep thought.
I think some people use the word, compassion, as freely as they use a word, like say, happy. It’s become somewhat generic in its use, and bastardized on quite a few levels, to service some individuals own beliefs, even if it’s quite the opposite of compassion.
What is compassion? Well it’s interesting. Many people, religions, and scientific organizations have differing views. But all agree that compassion is a positive trait, the more compassion the better. Compassion is directly linked to love.
There is one definition that popped up in more than one place, so I am going to go with it.
Compassion is the virtue of empathy for the suffering of others. It is regarded as a fundamental part of human love, and a cornerstone of greater social interconnection and humanism —foundational to the highest principles in philosophy, society, and personhood.
Compassion is often regarded as emotional in nature, and there is an aspect of compassion which regards a quantitative dimension, such that individual’s compassion is often given a property of “depth,” “vigour,” or “passion.” The etymology of “compassion” is Latin, meaning “co-suffering.”
In researching the nature, the base level of compassion, I found things even a bit more confusing. Some would have you believe we are either born with compassion, or we are not. It’s that simple. Some of us come into the world a bit more enlightened than others, and have the ability, to feel, for other living beings. Think of Mother Teresa.
But there are Early Developmental Psychologists that have studied children that were neglected by their mothers, abandoned, mistreated or abused (in big ways, not just a spanking), and their findings suggest that these experiences actually lead to sociopathic behavior. This is kind of the opposite of compassion, they lack the ability to feel anything for another living being. So whether they came into the world as compassionate babies or not, their early life experience cancelled all of that out.
And then there was my question, is compassion uniquely human? If humans feel compassion towards each other, can we also feel it towards other living beings, inter-species compassion? Do our dogs feel compassion towards each other, towards us, towards other living beings? There is very little evidence to demonstrate one way or the other. One interesting science article did try to explain the possibility of empathy though, with a yawning experiment. But is science necessary when it comes to feelings, does it need to be proven? I always seem to have more questions than not with things like this. But perhaps the answer is the question?
There is an awesome article written by Connor Wood for the Institute for the Bio-Cultural Study of Religion, Animals and Empathy. Totally worth a read if you are as curious as I am.
Like wisdom, compassion is uniquely human quality.
But I would disagree with the Buddhists on this view. Besides living with animals my entire life, and experiencing compassion first hand, there is a thanks owed to YouTube. There are awesome videos of compassion, human, other living beings, and inter-species. Millions of people tune in to watch this love in motion, compassion between various species.
Tarra & Bella, the unlikely friendship between an elephant and a dog. If you are new to this story, please click the link and watch the video. The compassion is palpable, in my opinion.
Then there is Christian the Lion. John and Ace’s compassion for Christian allowed for his freedom. And that Christian … well just watch it! George Adamson who is the ‘old man’ out with the lions in this video, was a hero of mine when I was a child. If you know the story of Elsa the lioness from Born Free, than you know about George and his compassion for everything living.
While I am a compassionate person, I tend to have a deeper sense of compassion for other species. I don’t think this is terribly uncommon, in fact most of my good friends are the same. Whether I was born with compassion, or simply surrounded by compassionate people who influenced my choices , or both, I am simply grateful that I feel so deeply.
Now why have I been put in the position to really think about compassion? It will suffice to say that there are some people acting in the training world, mixing acts of abuse, and pairing it with a word like, compassion. It’s mind twisting, and slightly jaw dropping, at least for me. And the real harm in this, is that it desensitizes us to abuse. Yet it happens. If for example, a husband beat his wife into submission, because he needed to teach her how to behave, and then bought her flowers to tell her he really did love her and only beat her because of this love … well he would go to prison for that. But not in the dog world. It’s unfortunate.
When I’m old and the grass is tall, I want to have memories from the heart. To know that every animal that came to me, lived with me, or needed me, received love and compassion, healthy doses of it, sprinkled all the way around.
Love, Nancy … we simply need more of it!