Compassion as a principle

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By LEONARDO BOFF*

It is attested in all peoples and cultures: the ability to put yourself in the other's shoes, share in their pain and thus alleviate it..

Through Covdi-19, Mother Earth is launching a counter-attack on humanity as a reaction to the overwhelming attack it has been suffering for centuries. She is simply defending herself. Covif-19 is also a sign and a warning that it sends us: we cannot wage war on it as we have done so far, as it is destroying the biological bases that sustain it and also sustain all other forms of life, especially the human.

We have to change, otherwise it could send us even more lethal viruses, who knows, even an indefensible one against which we could do nothing. Then we would be seriously endangered as a species. It is not without reason that Covid-19 has only hit humans, as a warning and a lesson. It has already led millions to death, leaving millions more with a path of suffering and a lethal threat that can reach everyone else.

The cold numbers hide a sea of ​​suffering for lost lives, for broken loves and for destroyed projects. There are not enough handkerchiefs to dry the tears of loved ones or dead friends, from whom they could not say a final goodbye, or even mourn and accompany them to the grave.

As if the suffering produced for a large part of humanity by the reigning capitalist and neoliberal system, fiercely competitive and far from cooperative, were not enough. It allowed the richest 1% to personally own 45% of all global wealth while the poorest 50% were left with less than 1%, according to a recent report by the Swiss credit. Let us listen to the man who best understands capitalism in the 1st century, the Frenchman Thomas Piketty, referring to the Brazilian case. Here, he says, there is the greatest concentration of income in the world; Brazilian billionaires, among the richest XNUMX%, are ahead of oil billionaires in the Middle East. No wonder there are millions of marginalized and excluded people that this disastrous inequality produces.

Once again, cold numbers cannot hide hunger, misery, high child mortality and the devastation of nature, especially in the Amazon and other biomes, involved in this process of plundering natural wealth.

But right now, due to the intrusion of the coronavirus, humanity is crucified and we barely know how to get it down from the cross. It is then that we must activate in all of us one of the most sacred virtues of human beings: compassion. It is attested in all peoples and cultures: the ability to put yourself in the other's shoes, share in their pain and thus alleviate it.

The greatest Christian theologian, Thomas Aquinas, points out in his Summa Theologica that compassion is the highest of all virtues, for it not only opens the person up to the other person but opens him up to the weakest and most in need of help. In this sense, he concluded, it is an essential characteristic of God.

we refer to principle compassion and not just compassion. The principle, in a deeper (philosophical) sense, means an original and essential disposition, generating a permanent attitude that is translated into acts, but never ends in them. It is always open to new acts. In other words, the principle has to do with something belonging to human nature. Because this is how the English economist and philosopher Adam Smith (1723-1790) could say in his book on Theory of Ethical Sentiments: “Even the most brutal and anti-community person is not immune to the power of compassion.”

Modern reflection has helped us to rescue the principle of compassion. It became increasingly clear to critical thinking that human beings are not structured solely on intellectual-analytical reason, which is necessary for us to deal with the complexity of our world. There is in us something more profound and ancestral, which emerged more than 200 million years ago when mammals erupted in evolution: sensitive and cordial reason. It means the ability to feel, to affect and be affected, to have empathy, sensitivity and love.

We are rational beings, but essentially sensitive. In fact, we build the world from affective ties. Such ties make people and situations precious and bearers of value. We inhabit the world not only through work, but through empathy, care and love. This is the place of compassion.

The one who dealt with this virtue better than us Westerners was Buddhism. compassion (Karuna) is articulated in two distinct and complementary movements: total detachment and care. Detachment means letting the other be, not framing him, respecting his life and destiny. Caring for him implies never leaving him alone in his suffering, getting emotionally involved with him so that he can live better carrying his pain more lightly.

The terrible thing about suffering is not so much the suffering itself, but the loneliness in the suffering. Compassion consists in not leaving the other alone. It means being together with him, feeling his sufferings and anxieties, saying words of comfort and giving him a hug full of affection.

Today, those who suffer, cry and are disheartened by the tragic fate of life, need this compassion and this profound humanitarian sensitivity that is born of sensitive and cordial reason. The spoken words that seem commonplace gain another sound, resonate inside the heart and bring serenity and raise a small ray of hope that everything will pass. The departure was tragic, but the arrival in God is blessed.

The Judeo-Christian tradition testifies to the greatness of compassion. in hebrew it is “rahamim” which means “having guts”, feeling the other with deep feeling. More than feeling is identifying with the other. The God of Jesus and Jesus himself are especially merciful, as revealed in the parables of the good Samaritan (Lk 10,30:37-15,11) and of the prodigal son (Lk 32:XNUMX-XNUMX). not in the prodigal son who returns but in the father who turns to the prodigal son.

More than ever before, given the devastation wrought by Covid-19 on the entire population, without exception, it is urgent to live compassion with the sufferers as our most human, sensitive and supportive side.

*Leonardo Boff he is an ecologist and a philosopher. author with Werner Müller from the book Compassion & care principle (Voices).

 

 

 

 

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