Compassion Has a Definition

I am, in my very heart, a political scientist. It’s not what I do with my day, but it is the sum total of my degree, and the sum total of what I think matters. Political debate is nothing less than a discussion of the future of any country. Debates about our political life are vitally important, not simply because they preserve democracy, but because they dictate the future of our lives.

I am not, for those of you who don’t know, an American. I live in Canada. I say this not as an insult, but because while I find American politics to be profoundly fascinating, I don’t have a dog in that hunt. I watch your politics because I find them fascinating. In some ways, your choice of president will affect me, but not in the most vital of ways.

I read a post that Kirsten linked to on Facebook, and for the most part it was a good post. For the most part, it was a reasoned and sensible appeal to civility. I was nodding my head, wishing that your elections could be so much more civilized than they are. I was nodding my head until I got to this part:

Maybe it doesn’t matter that you’re saying I’m stupid, unAmerican, deserve to be kicked out of the country, deserve to die, don’t have any compassion, don’t care about my fellow citizens, or am a moron.(emphasis mine).

Let’s leave off the bits about dying and morons. Let’s all agree that those have no place in polite discussion, and that if you are so rude as to resort to name calling and threats, we will not waste our time on you.

No, the part that stuck in my mind was compassion. Compassion has a definition. Dictionary.com defines it thus:

a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering.

And we can say many things about political platforms. We should say many things about political platforms. I think we can reasonably and reliably assess whether or not they show compassion to the unfortunate and whether or not they show a desire to alleviate suffering. We can do that, based on the facts of the party’s platform.

I for example, have looked at one of your parties and thought they were they most merciless group of people I would ever hope to encounter. I have decided this not because I don’t like their hair, but because when I look at their policies on taxation, on the role of the state in preserving and protecting citizens living on the margins, on immigration, on foreign aid, well, I looked at them and I applied the definition and thought “Nope, not compassionate.”

Now, so far all I have done is illustrate that a party doesn’t have any compassion. What about people? Well, I ask you: when you vote for a party, what are you really doing? You are allying yourself to them. When you say that you like their platforms, when you say that you agree with them, you are making a statement about yourself. I appreciate, particularly in the US, with a bipolar party system, you really only have two options, and that no one in their right mind agrees with everything a party says. Still, broad strokes can and should apply.

When you tell me that you are voting for a party that appears to be utterly lacking in compassion I think all of us should ask you about that. We should ask because we are not accusing, we are simply asking our neighbour and our friend: we would like to know what we may expect from you if we find ourselves the victims of misfortune, and we would like to know what you might expect from us. We should ask because your vote will help shape the country everyone will live in. It will translate into federal funds for programs or a lack of funds. It will translate into legislation and incursions into our daily lives. It will translate into the education of our kids and the healthcare our parents get.

I think we should ask because compassion has a definition, and if it has a definition then it can be measured, and we should care about things like that.

Mostly we should ask because you live right along side of us, and we might need your compassion some day.

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5 Responses to Compassion Has a Definition

  1. Reese says:

    Amen. I loathe the presidental voting season. I see how some align themselves, and I ask, do you not ever think yourselves to be in a position where you needed compassion? I pray for Thanksgiving. Then I pray and am grateful the insanity is over!

  2. debby says:

    Mrs Spit? Could you come run for office?

  3. a says:

    Yep. But some of the compassion is overshadowed by jealousy and misinformation. For instance, one of the more liberal people (generally) that I know was, today, making the statement that it’s not fair that he sits in his (giant 2000+s.f.) house in his nice neighborhood freezing because he turns the heat way to down to save on energy costs…meanwhile, the lazy jerk on welfare in public housing is cranking their heat because they don’t pay for it. I managed to get in a comment about how that lazy jerk’s landlord could just as easily decide it’s not worth his time to fix a broken heater and leave the family with no heat at all. But I didn’t get a chance to mention how he got to pick his neighborhood and all the other benefits available to him that those so called lazy jerks don’t have.

    So yes, compassion…it is lacking. I suppose it doesn’t help that we deal so frequently with the dregs of society in my profession. Sigh…

  4. Natalie says:

    Yes, I think that is what bothers me most about some peoples’ politics down here. I like debate and discussion but where can I go when someone just doesn’t seem to care about anyone other than themselves?

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