The other day I was playing online and another player messaged me with a question for a sociology paper they are writing. The question: what do you think is most wrong with our society?
Without a second thought my fingers rattled out “lack of compassion.”
When I really think about my answer it is very true. In America we are in the midst of division over politics, finances, relationships, family situations, and many other things. The one common denominator is lack of compassion among the people involved. The extreme politics I wrote about just result from political parties not being compassionate toward each other. Financial problems is just caused by large corporations not being compassionate to the people they supposedly serve.
Although it seems an over simplification, human conflict and trouble center around how poorly we treat each other. Certainly nature can throw us problems such as hurricanes and earthquakes, but how we treat each other during and after such events is purely within our control. Unfortunately people have very short attention spans. The media’s attention span is even shorter. When compassion is small selfishness is large. We fall into our own narrow interests and dismiss the interests of others or just forget about them.
When we reach beyond the confines of narrow self-interest, our hearts become filled with strength. -Dalai Lama
Life is about how we relate to other people. Possessions are lost. Life ends. The only real legacy we have is the influences we have on other people and, through them, the future. Narrow self interest is a leash we place around our own neck. Religious conflict rages simply because we refuse to consider the possibility that perhaps that other person could be right. It results because we don’t see the commonalities we share.
It isn’t any wonder why relationships fail without compassion. Too often relationships of all types, romantic, business, and friendship, are just formed by people looking to get something out of it. That something could be sex, emotional well-being, money, or any other thing. The bottom line: the relationship was formed through narrow self interest and therefore will be narrow as well.
Certainly not everyone acts out of self interest. Not everyone lacks compassion. There are a lot of good, compassionate people. Although I often write about what is wrong, only by acknowledging wrong thinking and behavior can we correct them. Compassion is defined as “deep awareness of the suffering of another coupled with the wish to relieve it” (1). Compassionate people do not seek anything in return; although most often they will receive compassion when they need it. Politics can be compassionate only when party agendas and bickering is set aside. Relationships can be compassionate when people stop seeking to get something out of a relationship. Businesses can actually make money by stopping their focus on making money and instead focus on practicing compassion.
There is a certain irony in the fact that the harder we strive to get the things we want the more elusive they are. As soon as we stop seeking for ourselves and practice compassion, all the things we used to want just appear.
Until we cut the root of our problems, our narrow self interest, humanity will continue to experience poverty, abuse, and other trouble.