The Art of Compassion

We’ve forgotten the art of compassion.

When considering what to write for this week’s blog the subject of compassion seemed appropriate for this time of year. To begin, I want to transport you to an incident that to me remains vibrant.

This took place in 2008. We were off on holiday and making our way to East Anglia. It was a beautiful day in May. The sky was blue, the breeze was blowing into the car’s open windows, the birds were singing. We were relaxed and happy. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say I felt blessed and even the traffic crawling to a stop wasn’t enough to upset my good mood. The hold-up was short lived…as was my happy feeling.

A small black shape landed on the road in front, exhibiting every indication of happiness, hopping about excitedly and fluttering its wings. Before I could even gasp the car ahead rolled forward over the bird’s wing, squashing the bones, feathers and flesh into the tarmac leaving the bird both damaged and trapped.

Put yourself in this bird’s place. You’re going about your day-to-day business and something mashes a limb into the road so that you’re pinned, in pain, and cannot break free. The best you can hope for is another car to roll over you bringing about a quick death.

I flinched and was left feeling helpless and sick at heart. I could do nothing to help this creature. The only way to release it from the tarmac would have been to amputate its wing, something I was not capable of doing, and even then the poor thing was likely a short time from dying of shock.

All this because it landed in the wrong place at the wrong time. That could happen to anyone and any thing.

The husband patted my arm as though I was six years old, and while I didn’t need the comfort, he wasn’t going to hear any complaints.

My reaction, my feelings for another creature even though its pain and demise had no impact on me or my life is the very definition of compassion.

The dictionary definition is sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others. Why are we not taught this in schools? Is it something parents no longer discuss? One of my favourite books as a child was The Water Babies because I loved the concepts of Mrsdoasyouwouldbedoneby and Mrsbedonebyasyoudid. Why is all this so absent from the world?

The driver of the car that ran over that bird could not have known the creature was on the road. The driver was not at fault. It was a mere accident. No one was to blame. These facts made what happened no less painful to witness, but here’s the thing. I can’t quote statistics but it would be eye-opening to know how many drivers would have run over the bird had they known it was under their wheels. I’ve also been witness to other instances where I’ve been directly involved; beeped because we’ve stopped for a rabbit in the road; seen a woman who had to turn her car to stop cars driving over a dog who had run out and been injured (in that particular incident we and one other driver ended up taking the dog to a vet even though we were no part of the accident). We see road-kill all the time, but when did we decide it’s okay to run over things even if they can be avoided? Indeed, why are there people in this world who would gladly aim the car and shout ‘score’ for a hit? Who is raising these despicable souls?

Of course, I’m not just talking about animals here or creatures on the road. We treat each other the same way. What kind of being does it take to knowingly run over a living creature when they don’t have to? To abuse a dog, a cat, a horse, or anything that breathes? When did society start to think it doesn’t matter and so many to believe we can all do what we like without considering the impact on our friends, our families, our neighbours, society itself? Or to think it’s acceptable to walk by a woman on the road when she’s pleading for help having been hit by a car because ‘someone else will call the ambulance’ so there’s no reason to get involved (an actual story a temp apparently once confessed to a colleague in an office I worked in many years ago).

When I was growing up I was taught not to cause harm, to do unto others only as I wanted them to do unto me. That’s not to say be a pushover and accept abuse, but why be the cause? Why are so many so oblivious to the pain of others, and why do so many behave as if it’s perfectly acceptable for behaviour to be so reprehensible that we even have a modern reference to it, that of ‘Troll’?

Compassion: sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others.

Take it on board.

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