Memphis bridge Ukraine lights

A Little Passion in Our Compassion

A Little Passion in Our Compassion

Another tragedy unfolds, generating an outpouring of grief, sympathy, and, in some cases, anger. On the whole, people—and our society, in general—respond appropriately to tragic events. Sure, there are the naysayers and arm-chair pundits who want to distract from our sincerity and concern. But, in a major crisis, most folks are caring and compassionate.

As an unprovoked war in Ukraine continues, as we enter the third year of a global pandemic, and as people in our great land struggle with day-to-day challenges and an uncertain future, I wonder…Do we really understand the meaning of compassion?

Frankly, it’s a difficult question to answer. Online rants, network news nincompoops, and internet gobbledygook make it nearly impossible to discern facts from fiction. Add in a deadly mix of disinformation and misguided pontification, and compassion—honest, internalized compassion—is a rare commodity that may become extinct.

Compassion and Passion

Before I continue, let’s make sure we understand the definition I’m using for compassion: sympathy and concern for the suffering and misfortune of others. The word compassion literally means to suffer together and evokes similar words, such as empathy, caring, and pity—all reactions to an unfortunate event or circumstance.

Contrast those reactive responses with the word passion and its active, or action-based, definitions: strong, powerful emotions, likes, feelings, or desires. Compelling. Enthusiastic.

Unfortunately, in today’s interconnected digital world, it’s much easier to click a “Like” or “Love” icon than to actually internalize a tragedy in front of us. We go through the motions…pressing a button and then moving on to the next tweet or post. A reaction that lacks passion and appears hollow, sometimes insensitive.

At certain times, I’ve been guilty of simply clicking a reaction icon and moving on.

So, I try. I try to remember how easy it is to lose sight of our humanity. With so many tragedies in our lives, and in our world, we can’t be deeply compassionate about every problem. At the same time, I’m frustrated—with myself and others—when serious, sincere compassion is needed but the proverbial ball is dropped and never picked back up.

Thoughts & Prayers

One of the most overused expressions on the Internet, thoughts and prayers is tossed about like saying “Good morning” to a stranger or a neighbor. This phrase has lost all of its meaning and sincerity. Simply three words typed into a Reply box—a rote response to another mass shooting, to another small town decimated by a tornado, or to another person diagnosed with a deadly disease.

There’s no passion behind this response, no matter how sincere the intentions, unless the respondent thinks—in a moment of thoughtful introspection—about others or prays about the situation. And by prays, I mean actually asking God to help and comfort those impacted by misfortune.

Prayer is not difficult. Sincerity sometimes is.

Frankly, if you’re not going to be actively engaged or passionate about a tragic circumstance, then don’t post a thoughts and prayers response.

God doesn’t keep score or a running tally.

“Could’ve Been Worse”

A little over four months ago, my family experienced yet another unexpected calamity. Initially shocked and seeking comfort, I reached out to extended family, close friends, and coworkers to communicate the situation. Essentially, I was looking for moral support.

For the most part, we received an abundance of love and compassionate caring, which continues to this day.

Regrettably, I received a “could’ve been worse” response from a couple of folks, who might be described as realists. Pragmatists. Nothing wrong with those folks or their way of thinking. Yet, like the previously mentioned naysayers, there’s a time for rationality, and there’s a time for caring and concern.

This was a time for concern…for compassion.

Telling someone it “could’ve been worse” is almost as bad as not saying anything. In fact, I’d argue it is worse than ignoring someone’s concerns.

“Could’ve been worse” is tantamount to saying “At least you’re alive”—as if disaster survivors don’t realize how fortunate they are or as if someone living with cancer doesn’t appreciate every new day.

Not only is “could’ve been worse” insensitive, its tone sounds like a parent chastising a child.

How dare you ask for sympathy? You should be grateful.

Religious or Spiritual Platitudes

One of my least favorite sayings is “God doesn’t give us more than we can handle.” Why say this to someone facing adversity? How does this relieve a person’s pain and suffering? Remember, compassion literally means to suffer together. “God doesn’t give us more than we can handle,” however, sounds much like an admonishment—similar to “Could’ve been worse”—as though the sufferer shouldn’t complain or seek comfort. God knows what He’s doing…so, get over it and move on.

Not much passion in “God doesn’t give…” – more like judgment. In fact, the biblical interpretation of this saying (1 Corinthians 10:13) is much more complex than our modern-day, bumper-sticker theology. Many spiritual platitudes—think Count your blessings—end up being counter-productive, even hurtful. Even if the intent is sincere, the message is cold, distant.

Just saying something to say something.

Little things. Little things matter. Especially to those who are suffering. Take time out to reflect on the heartbreak that happens every day. Reach out to someone and ask, “How’s it going? Is there anything I can do for you?”

Cynics would say that lighting up buildings and bridges in blue and yellow, for example, is a clichéd response to a terrible humanitarian crisis.

I disagree.

Showing solidarity and support is an important first step. Frankly, I’d like the bridges to remain blue and yellow until Russian forces leave Ukraine. Awareness and daily reminders are key to combating evil and hatred. Necessary to facilitate positive change.

We need to be active in our compassion. To be thoughtful, reflective, and engaged in the act of compassion. 

It’s time for all of us to put passion back in our compassion.

Ken Billett has called Memphis home for more than thirty years. A freelance writer, fiction author, and nationally known advocate for skin cancer prevention and research, Ken volunteers his time at the Blues Hall of Fame on South Main in downtown Memphis. When not tending to his flowers, Ken and his wife Vicki travel extensively. StoryBoard Memphis is proud to present Ken’s columns Time Capsules and Get out of Town as ongoing features here on StoryBoard.

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