Ref. :  000034477
Date :  2011-05-25
Language :  English
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Compassion: the most human virtue

Three terrifying scenes, the earthquake in Japan, followed by a devastating tsunami; the escape of radioactive gasses from the affected central nuclear plants, and the landslides that occurred in the highland cities of Rio de Janeiro, have definitely elicited two responses: compassion and solidarity.

Compassion fills us first. Of all human virtues, it is perhaps the most human, because not only does it open us, in a pained expression of love, to the other, but to the other who is undergoing the most suffering and trauma. The ideology, religion, social or cultural status of the other is of little importance. Compassion annuls those differences and leads us to extend our helping hand to the victims. To remain cynically indifferent would betray a supreme inhumanity that transforms us into enemies of our own humanity. When we see the suffering of the other we cannot help but to become like the compassionate Samaritan of the Biblical parable.

Compassion implies assuming the passion of the other. It is to transport oneself to the place of the other, to be by his side, suffer with him, cry with him, endure a shattered heart with him. Perhaps we may not have anything to give and words may lodge in our throats, but the important thing is to be by his side and not to let him suffer alone. Whether we are thousands of miles away from our Japanese brothers and sisters or close by our neighbors of the highland carioca cities, their suffering is our suffering, their despair is our despair, the heartrending cries of "Why, my God, why?" that they raise to the heavens are our heartrending cries. And we share the same pain of not finding a logical explanation. And even if there were one, it would not annul the devastation, it would not lift up the destroyed houses; it would not resuscitate the loved ones who were killed, especially the innocent children.

Compassion has a singular quality: it demands neither prior reflection nor argument to ground it. Compassion is simply imposed on us because we are essentially compassionate beings. Compassion itself challenges the notion of biologist Richard Dawkins of the «egotistic gene,» and the theory of Charles Darwin that competition and survival of the fittest govern the dynamics of evolution. To the contrary: solitary genes do not exist, all genes are inter-retro-connected and we humans belong to uncountable webs of relationships that make us cooperative and solidarian beings.

More and more scientists who come from the fields of quantum mechanics, astrophysics and bio-anthropology support the thesis that the supreme law of the cosmogenetic process is the interconnection among everything, rather than an excluding competition. The subtle equilibrium of the Earth, considered as a self regulating super-organism, requires the cooperation of countless factors that interact with one another, with the energies of the universe, with the atmosphere, the biosphere, and with the Earth system itself. This cooperation is responsible for her equilibrium, today disturbed by the excessive pressure that our consumerist and wasteful society imposes on all ecosystems, and that is manifested in the generalized ecological crisis.

In compassion is found the meeting of all religions, of East and West, of all ethical constructs, all philosophies, and all cultures. At the center is the dignity and authority of all who suffer, generating in us an active compassion.

The second attitude, related to compassion, is solidarity. It obeys the same logic as compassion. We go to find the other to save his life, to bring him water, food, clothing, especially human warmth. We know through anthropogenesis that we became human when we overcame the phase of the individualistic search for the means of subsistence and began to search for them collectively and distribute them cooperatively among everyone. What made us human yesterday, humanizes us today. This is why it is so moving to see how many people from all over have mobilized to help the victims, and through solidarity, to give them what they need: above all the hope that, in spite of the tragedy, is still true that life is worth living.

- Leonardo Boff, Theologian and Earthcharter Commission

Free translation from the Spanish byServicios Koinonia,


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