Compassion and empathy….who got it….where you get it

September 11 was an extraordinary time, event and tragedy in US history. I was touched by the outpouring of compassion shown all over the US. But years later I am still asking, where is the compassion and empathy for those in other countries. People talk to me or I over hear them talking to others and something is amiss. What is it about boundaries, borders or divisions that weakens a persons compassion for others?

There has been (and of course always will be) peoples in other lands suffering terrible violence, starvation and oppression. Why doesn’t our collective heart bleed for them? Why is their suffering tenable? Why are we even responsible for some of that suffering?

I often hear that our actions are justified when we rain violence on others, because we are taking measures to prevent violence being visited on us here. Nearly 3000 died here. Do you know how many we have killed since then? Do you know how many of those we killed were considered innocents even by our own military? (Do you care?)

If this were an eye for an eye kind of world, there would be few Americans remaining. We admit to violating international laws, treaties and agreements in the name of necessity. But we are swift to deny others that same rationale. Consider how our drug war has caused tens of thousands of deaths at the hands of drug lords we created in the pursuit of a failed policy. That failure is acknowledged by our own government. I do not make this judgement, this is the recognition voiced by the government of the U.S. Not one year in the course of the drug war have we ever brought supply below demand.

But forget our transgressions, if they be such, and ponder the fate of peoples all over the globe that live in abject poverty, oppression and fear. Is it too much to think about because it is so overwhelming. Is our maximum capacity met at about 3000 fatalities before we shut down our ability to empathize? Is there something magical or natural about our national boundaries and kinship that limits compassion and empathy? Do we care as much about the casualties of our coalition forces in Afghanistan? From England (427 lost), Canada (158) and France (88) and more. Civilian casualties in Afghanistan recorded in the first four months of 2012 are, 579 civilian deaths and 1,216 civilian injuries. Most of these casualties were inflicted by the Taliban, many by us.

I spoke about this with a friend today. She asserts that we were transformed by 9/11. We coalesced as a nation as a result of this tragedy. I see that. But, I want us to be transformed even more.  I have been taught to pray for loving/kindness for those beyond our borders, often, and without judgement, . I feel bad for our enemies and their suffering. I wish all living beings be free from suffering and be happy.

So what! And, so what is my beef with the world? I just feel alone and like I am just part of a small number of people when I express these sentiments. Back in the 60s I felt empowered and part of a large number of folks who felt that compassion for friend and foe. Where did it go and was it ever even there?

So, no disrespect to our brethren who died in the line of duty doing the best they can to secure our safety. No disrespect to those who met a terrible fate in the World Towers and all the first responders who died or have taken ill from as a result of their efforts in what we now know was a toxic wasteland. Nope, no disrespect and all due respect. This musing is about us, not them.

2 thoughts on “Compassion and empathy….who got it….where you get it

  1. wanting more seems normal.. more peace, more compassion… I am not sure how I muster compassion for those that are bent on killing people in the name of their religion.. I find that so offensive… I don’t know why there are radicals among us; however, if they were not to be there they would not be there, so I turn agin to trust the divine order of things and that suffering is part of this world… I always remember the first line in the first paragraph of “The Road Less Traveled” …”Life is difficult.” I diagree that our empathy began or stopped at the 9/11 incident.. America is the most generous nation on the planet and we give much to those in need…. I never give up on America… still the best place in the entire world to live, to prosper, to share and to be free! I believe your prayers are heard and that all prayers are answered in the darndest ways. Ultimately it is a personal choice what that freedom will look like for that person…. darn free will! 😉

    1. That damn free will thing…..highly overrated. I have survived dozens of years doing the bidding of my addictions and my thoughts. Both of which led me to nonsensical dead ends.

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