I never understood how one could lack compassion. It seems like a fundamental trait that we’re all born with; however, I’m still trying to determine whether there’s any truth in my assumption. Is compassion a genetic trait that passes through bloodlines, and if so, are we all born with an equal share? Or, does life and the people in it teach us to feel compassion? It’s a mystery to me.
I’m currently reading “The Art of Happiness: A handbook for living” by the Dalai Lama and Howard C. Cutler, MD. A chapter devoted to the topic of compassion provides the definition as believed by Dalai Lama. He says that compassion is “a mental attitude based on the wish for others to be free of their suffering and is associated with a sense of commitment, responsibility, and respect toward the other.” He further states, “genuine compassion is based on the rationale that all human beings have an innate desire to be happy and overcome suffering, just like myself. And, just like myself, they have the natural right to fulfill this fundamental aspiration.”
He says it so concisely, eloquently. The Dalai Lama provides an example of how “genuine compassion” looks in every day life by speaking of seeing an animal intensely suffering. In witnessing the animal’s suffering, we may “spontaneously experience a feeling of not being able to bear its pain. That being also has feeling, can experience pain, and has a right not to experience such pain.”
His example resonated with me. This is how I naturally respond, and I’d assumed that everyone naturally felt this way, but some had learned to suppress it in some way. In reading the Dalai Lama’s beliefs, it challenged the assumptions I’d made. I now have a clearer understanding, and though it saddens me to accept that many people lack genuine compassion toward others, my expectations have adjusted in response to this revelation. It doesn’t mean any of us is better or worse than the other, we are simply different for whatever reason. In a strange way I have empathy for others who don’t have this type of compassion. Although they can perceivably roll through life with less of an emotional burden, they are likely missing an aspect that deepens their connection with others.
In prison, those who feel compassion, or lack there of, is glaringly obvious. While I used to believe that people lacking compassion was a rarity, it is in fact, the opposite here. I want to fix it and help soften the hearts of others, but I’m not sure how, or it it’s even possible. I want them to recognize the suffering of others, desire better for them, and minimize the further pain or suffering they impose on others.
There are hundreds of difficulties that living here involves, but one of the hardest for me is the never-ending heartache I feel for others. Many mothers in here appear to be enjoying freedom from and the responsibility for their innocent children. They use all their phone minutes calling their significant other rather than calling their children. Many women appear not to care about sentient beings because of the bitterness they carry, feeling like nobody truly cares about them and thus they have no obligation to care for others as a result. Inmates and employees who’ve witnessed more bad than human goodness; and as a result they’ve lost hope in the possibility of ever positively affecting the future lives of anyone who lives here. It saddens me. If we all lose hope of any chance of improvement,
I believe we’re all born with a clean slate and a handful of beautiful qualities. Life, experience, people and a whole lot of other things either nurture and enhance those qualities or squelch them until they’re barely visible. Additionally, each of us holds responsibility for our own transformation. We can become bitter, or we can find deeper love and compassion for people who have felt the pain we have felt. Rather than wishing hurt on others or complacently watching as it “happens to all of us,” we can be an example of love, kindness and compassion. We can extend a hand to others when they fall or offering a safe place to be when they’re hurting.
It’s not easy being submersed in negativity each day, but it’s a challenge I’ve accepted. One of my many goals is to retain softness and gentleness within such a hardened environment. Along the way, I hope I can crack a few hard exterior shells so other women, young and old, can find the love and compassion that’s so intrinsically valuable.