Saturday, 28 April 2012

Compassion is a choice

Yesterday on Twitter the story broke of a man who decided to exact revenge on those he felt had failed him. In writing about it in tweets people fell into distinct groups, those who knew little and waited to know more, those who knew equally little but decided he was beneath their contempt and those who just saw it as a great opportunity to dust off their "Gazza and a fishing rod" jokes.

Compassion was a little thin on the ground. Judgemental attitudes however had to be waded through.

Stereotypically as a nation we have historically been seen as a stoic group. Our upper lip is apparently considered stiff and un-yeilding and this notion of stoicism was strengthened and embraced across the world, after the Blitz brought forward stories of communities working together for the good of the whole. 

I think sadly that this has now passed into myth. We live in a time where compassion is only viewed as an acceptable response when wrapped up into a one minute backstory of still photographs and overlaid with the opening bars of an Adele song. In essence a backstory in a talent show beats tolerance and understanding every time.

Tolerance takes committment. Understanding requires listening. The lives of others are their own business as we plod along trying to make sense of the parameters of own selfish bubble. As surely as the microwave and super-fast broadband strip away the last vestiges of patience, which we as an ever evolving species need to consider the challenges of our fellow man, it has hardened our hearts and narrowed our minds to a laser sharp point. 

When did that become Ok.

Seeing a man at the end of his coping skills yesterday caused many to think not of him but of themselves. How would they feel if he had done this to them? That was the wrong question. To me a much more relevant one along with how frightened those who were confronted by him must have been feeling was how must it feel to be him.

Consider that man led to the police car in slow motion with an accompanying soundtrack and still photo's of the life that led him there and many might have felt his pain and possibly teared up. 

This isn't of course a defence of his actions, it's asking for more than that. It's asking that we be slower to judge and more questioning of ourselves. Actions like these can be random or they can follow a clearly delineated path. 

However the skill we seem most proud of as a nation now is that we claim to have a psychic ability of knowledge. Many people knew that he was beneath their contempt. They knew he deserved no compassion and even less understanding. They knew this without the slightest doubt of their conviction. It is this assured response which needs refining in my view.

Because the time to make up our minds about other people is never.