Sundays with Uncle-God Momma: anger and compassion

My friend Dawn wrote a post worthy of a Sunday, please read it:

On Considering Compassion

Well, as one who can dish out vitriol with the best of them, i can feel a finger pointed at me. I also know better…which obviously doesn’t mean that i act better.

I’m familiar with the Bodhisattva’s vow: self-sacrifice for the sake of compassion towards all living things, to practice until every blade of grass attains enlightenment. (i differ with it there, the grass is already enlightened)

The fear-anger-hatred continuum is the strongest metaphysical force in the universe because it is easy; it does not take self control. It’s dangerous because it is easy and because it is self replicating and communicable.

On the other hand, there are times when it’s needed…or at least when the action it is likely to produce is needed. Maybe it is more that there are times when its abundance needs to be turned from its current ends to more productive ends.

As i look around, i can’t help but see it everywhere in my country. It’s used to control us (War on Terror) and to divide us (politics). I can no longer rationalize the answer that the top of the social scale is simply callous in its disregard for the lower rungs. It displays hatred towards them. What else can explain our current state of affairs and the treatment of the majority of Americans?

But i can think of two examples where anger and compassion were married to produce positive action. The early labor movement in America was militant against its oppressors, yet displayed compassion towards the oppressed. Compassion being necessary for solidarity. The Civil Rights movement, motivated equally by compassion for one’s fellow man regardless of skin color and anger at injustices suffered by people because of that skin color.

Both examples produced profound change for the better, and in light of Dawn’s post i have to wonder if they were successful because they managed to harness anger that grew out of compassion.

That’s the important part: compassion needs to come first, because only it can control anger. Only it has any hope of channeling vitriol into anything except destruction. More precisely, it is compassion that can turn destruction into the creation of something better, rather than destroying to create from hatred. Creation from hatred can only be malformed and ignoble.

Our nation is terribly lacking in compassion. The myth of rugged independence has run amok. There is no such thing as independence, either in origination or action. Existence is in relation. We cannot live without death, nor can we grow rich without creating poverty. The fallacy of independence only allows us to believe that we exist outside of relation. But we can be prosperous without creating poverty. When prosperity is based on compassion it becomes a matter of the common wealth.

That’s not Communism, because the state is unnecessary for – and probably counterproductive to – true compassion. It has nothing to do with taking from one and giving to another. It is not “charity” as commonly defined, where some portion of individual wealth is handed out to the less fortunate. It is the simple recognition that existence is in relation and that harm to one is harm to all. Conversely, compassion for one is compassion for all.

And if all this sounds too Eastern and esoteric, try Luke 6:27-31 (and onto 36 if you’re so inclined):

“But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you.”

Anger is understandable when others do terrible things unto you, it can, and should, motivate action against injustice. It leads men to turn over the tables of money changers in the temple, strike for a living wage and face loaded guns for peace and equality. But it cannot be forgotten that the opposite of injustice is justice, and justice is not possible without compassion.

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~ by Lex on January 10, 2010.

One Response to “Sundays with Uncle-God Momma: anger and compassion”

  1. Amen Lex.

    There are important issues today that need – no, absolutely require – a voice. It is as you said the underlying motivation that makes the difference. Sometimes it is the quiet persistence of every day actions that can create the safe space for change. Our safe space feels very much at a premium these days.

    Thank you for sharing your voice. I appreciate you greatly friend.

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