Food for Thought

April 23, 2011 at 2:11 pm (By Amba)

In the alchemy of man’s soul, almost all noble attributes — courage, love, hope, faith, beauty, loyalty — can be transmuted into ruthlessness.  Compassion alone stands apart from the continuous traffic between good and evil proceeding within us.  Compassion is the antitoxin of the soul.  Where there is compassion, even the poisonous impulses remain relatively harmless.

~Eric Hoffer

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51 Comments

  1. karen said,

    Beautiful.
    In this time of our lives- i’d like a little more compassion shown, please.

    Does anyone know hoe the girl that got beat up at the McDonald’s is doing??
    Had a little compassion been shown toward her- she would probably not have suffered blunt-force trauma to the head.

  2. Jason (the commenter) said,

    Compassion can turn those who get it into coddled weaklings, unable to make decisions for themselves, and those who give it into self-righteous tyrants.

  3. karen said,

    … please fix the hoe(farmer that i am)- to read ~how~!!

  4. amba12 said,

    Compassion can turn those who get it into coddled weaklings, unable to make decisions for themselves, and those who give it into self-righteous tyrants.

    Tell it to Eric Hoffer. Oops, he’s dead.

    He was a longshoreman who became a self-taught philosopher, very popular in the 1950s. Very blue-collar and macho, which made it OK for him to think. I don’t think he meant what you mean by compassion — that sickly sweet poison.

    And I imagine he might regard your statement as a good illustration of the rest of his statement.

  5. chickelit said,

    Compassion can turn those who get it into coddled weaklings, unable to make decisions for themselves, and those who give it into self-righteous tyrants.

    I’m going to have to chime in with Jason on this. I would like a definition of compassion distinct from pity. And where does sympathy fit in there?

    The Germans offer fewer choices concepts: Mitgefühl and Mitleid. Is that telling?

  6. chickelit said,

    Maybe what I’m looking for is a distinction between “tough love” and enablement when it comes to raising kids–teenagers especially.

  7. amba12 said,

    The word has really been corrupted beyond usefulness, I see. Forget it.

  8. Jason (the commenter) said,

    amba12: The word has really been corrupted beyond usefulness, I see. Forget it.

    I don’t think its meaning has been corrupted, I just think that like anything else compassion can be put to good or bad use, have good and bad consequences.

  9. karen said,

    I read it differently than this ~it takes a Village~ mindset vs the ability to actually care beyond the schadenboner–freud- whatever that word is. So many people i know personally don’t give two shitz about anything that doesn’t directly affect them or theirs. They are ignorant and would rather remain so than actually learn about- say- politics or religion or anything that may have a bit of tension or negative energy. Gotta keep those endorphins going!

    So, we don’t seem to be surprised anymore when teens rage, bully and ultimately kill– hell, i suppose killing is just one step up from cutting– only someone else suffers.

    Compassion is feeling- pure and simple. Enough to step in or speak up when we see something WRONG– you know that word? It’s the opposite of RIGHT- which opposes the notion of relativism to the point of caring enough to say so. Hopefully, always will.

    It’s not coddling or handouts, Jason. Once the soul lacks enough compassion to ~do the right thing~ instead of the easy or the greed-paved thing, well- get ready for anarchy.

    Learned today: April 22nd is Lenin’s birthday. And i don’t mean John.

  10. karen said,

    I would love to study philosophy- think i’ll start a bucket list(a very short one- #2: visit PEI).

    Anchoress had the funniest video- animated- about bio-physicists having a degree in philosophy- a conversation w/a doctor that actually goes along so perfectly w/this discussion…

  11. amba12 said,

    Compassion to me just means the awareness that others really exist and experience life, as do I. They are not just means or objects or obstacles to what I want.

    You still have to have a clue what to do with that awareness. Sometimes what someone really needs is a swift kick in the pants. People really get in their — our — own way to an amazing extent. Call it the human condition, you can have all the compassion for that that you like and it’s still exasperating, or worse. Stringent demands often bring out the best in people and indulgence the worst (I agree with you there, Jason). Nor are we very often wise enough to know whether another person needs the soft shoulder or the kick in the pants. Life knows, though. Life don’t take no shit. Life is a hard teacher and it’s OK to bind up one another’s wounds, but we can’t prevent them.

  12. wj said,

    I think I agree, but would put it slightly differently. Compassion consists of seeing other people as people, and treating them in the way you would hope someone would treat you if you were in their place. That may amount to tough love in some situations, but certainly not in all. In some cases, it may be lending a helping hand. And in some it may be just a matter of being there, and sitting quietly while someone works thru their own thoughts.

    Or, to use a much older gloss, Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

  13. karen said,

    Wj- 2000+ yrs:0).

    I dated injured men- so what do i know. I also want to raise every bull calf dropped and take home every stray cat- that’s how we got the ones we have now- plus my mom’s, plus my brother’s…

    It’s harder for me to see the drawn line of soft shoulder/swift kick- but, time(age)has sort of helped my perspective. I still would instinctively jump into the middle of a fight to help the underdog, though.

  14. Christopher Diamant said,

    This is why Biddhism; proper Buddhism, stands as the relative moral nexus of today’s world; because it prizes this attribute all others as it, like water, stands most basic to all virtues for what is known to be religion; and so stands high to the shoulder of each in it’s Equality: yet Compassion is what we extend to the Innocent; Mercy is what we show those who are then Guilty: although I am sure there are those who would disagree….

    This is because Mercy and Compassion are the Everlasting Arms of God; as Mohammed well knew; although he also knew that Justice is the left hand on that left Arm of Compassion; and Peace was the right hand on that right Arm of Mercy.

    And why?
    Justice may kill; but Peace! brings back alive…

    And Truth can and does Wound: but Love Heals

    Inshallah

  15. Icepick said,

    Compassion can turn those who get it into coddled weaklings, unable to make decisions for themselves, and those who give it into self-righteous tyrants.

    And I’m supposed to be the cynical one….

  16. Christopher Diamant said,

    It is written:

    “I kill: and I make alive: I wound; and I heal”

  17. karen said,

    What book is that from, Christopher?

  18. Maxwell James said,

    Compassion: suffering as others do.

    Pity: piety, affection, duty.

    They’re not the same thing.

  19. karen said,

    That’s how i feel, Maxwell.

    Watching the ~delarosa~ video-sorry if my spelling is off- @Anchoress.

    Choosing not to watch three teen girls beat another into a seizure.

    Same thing.

  20. karen said,

    Could you say that compassion is a verb?

  21. amba12 said,

    To compass?

  22. karen said,

    Yeah- and knowing the correct direction & location helps.

  23. Icepick said,

    The McD’s beating is nothing. We had a case in Marion County (Ocala area) this week in which five teenagers lured the ex-boyfriend of one of them to a house, tortured him, killed him, hacked up the body and burned it, and hid the ashes in paint cans. (I think those are the correct particulars.) The step-father of two of the killers helped dispose of the body and is an accessory after the fact. I believe that the whole thing got started with a Facebook war (Social networking is the future!), but I refuse to follow it in detail.

    http://www.orlandosentinel.com/news/local/breakingnews/os-seath-tyler-jackson-funeral-20110423,0,7257238.story

    I’m fairly certain that the relative merits of compassion, pity and mercy never came up in the planning stage. Right now people seem more concerned with the relative merits of punishment versus retribution. There can’t be any justice in a case like this, so that’s not even part of the discussion. I’m just going to think of kittens and my little girl, and hope that the cops caught whoever they were looking for in the manhunt in the neighborhood earlier this evening.

    (That’s the fourth manhunt in the neighborhood in the last 15 days, and the fifth or sixth in the last five weeks. On April 7 some bank robbers robbed a bank nearby and fled to a house just up the street. They got caught the same morning. I got pics! Very boring pics. Earlier this week three bad dudes tried to rob an internet cafe in Apopka. The security guard managed to shoot one of them to death and the police searched for the other two in the middle of the night by buzzing our neighborhood in the police helicopters. They don’t call Pine Hills Chopper City for nothing! Today the Sherrif’s office had several cars slow prowling the streets looking into back yards. No choppers though, so whoever they were must not have been too bad. And a few days before the internet cafe thing the Sheriff’s office had thrown up some late night blockade for what appeared to be a grid search. No idea what that was about. Most of the man hunts in Pine Hills never make the news so I usually never know what the Hell is going on. God, I love being poor!)

  24. amba12 said,

    It’s the New Economy!

  25. reader_iam said,

    Timely post, Annie, and a good one: Food for thought, indeed.

  26. reader_iam said,

    Thanks!

  27. Jason (the commenter) said,

    amba12: Compassion to me just means the awareness that others really exist and experience life, as do I.

    Dragging everyone down to your level, huh? There’s some conceit in your compassion!

  28. Beth said,

    I wonder if Hoffer read Buber.

  29. amba12 said,

    Dragging everyone down to your level, huh? There’s some conceit in your compassion!

    Not “as” as in “like”, you dolt! As in, they’re not inanimate objects. Or is that an arrogant assumption?

  30. mockturtle said,

    It seems to me that there is some confusion between compassion and empathy.

  31. Jason (the commenter) said,

    amba12: Or is that an arrogant assumption?

    You’re almost there! But you need to wonder about how something is bad, not if it is.

  32. karen said,

    Jason just ain’t got that lovin’ feelin’, eh?

    Ice– honestly– i’m speechless.

  33. Donna B. said,

    The previous post had me thinking I should read “The True Believer” again. The rest of the quote above is:

    “Nature has no compassion. It is, in the words of William Blake, “a creation that groans, living on death; where fish and bird and beast and tree and metal and stone live by devouring,” Nature accepts no excuses and the only punishment it knows is death.”

    Taking the whole literally, compassion is accepting excuses — sorta like Jason said.

    And what does it mean that nature has no “honor, love, hope, faith, duty, loyalty, etc.”? If (as implied) nature not having it is what makes compassion an antitoxin, then why are not the others also always antitoxins? Why is only compassion a one-sided coin?

    Hoffer has a lot to say about nature and man:

    “Nature attains perfection, but man never does.”

    “Man was nature’s mistake — she neglected to finish him — and she has never ceased paying for her mistake.”

    “Both the natural and the mechanical are the opposite of that which is uniquely human.”

    And more… much much more. Some of it contradictory* on first reading, or 10th. Those quotes above are incomplete and from “Reflections on the Human Condition”.

    *A philosophy that doesn’t seemingly, if not actually, contradict itself at some point would likely be useless.

  34. karen said,

    I figured this dude, Hoffer- was speaking about human nature. Not nature in general.

    If his writings are contradictory in ~nature~ – isn’t it because he just was ~unfinished~?

  35. Donna B. said,

    I think Hoffer is talking about both, contrasting them, trying to figure how humans are set apart, etc.

    Another Hoffer quote:

    “One wonders whether it was the alchemy of the soul — the fact that in man’s soul good and evil, beauty and ugliness, truth and error continually pass into each other — that gave rise to the idea of an alchemy in nature. When the alchemists tried to transmute one metal into another, they were trying to deal with nature as if it were human nature.”

  36. karen said,

    dONNA- LOOK!!
    Heh- i always get a kick when i leave on my caps:0). I found this at Instapundit and would someone please link it up so i don’t get my ass put in a sling for taking too much of as much of a post as is ever written over there? Someday. I will learn. To linky…

    “According to a study published in the journal Social Psychology and Personality Science, Botox may not only numb facial muscles, but also – and for the same reason – numb users’ perception of other people’s emotions.”

    Like society needs one more freaking reason… to desensitize…

  37. amba12 said,

    Donna: fascinating. Thanks. An interesting struggle. The contradictions are not a problem, as what he is contemplating is contradictory.

  38. chickelit said,

    Speaking of alchemy, a book I’m working through is this. Why? For me, a trained chemist, it’s kind of like an astronomer picking up a primer on astrology. I wanted to see where things came from, just how murky were the roots of chemistry. The author begins in his introduction:

    When we mention the word “Alchemy”, most people think that means a now-discredited method of turning lead into gold.
    Then we have the psychologists, after Jung, who tell us that alchemy, with its fantastic imagery, is only a metaphor — that is to say, that alchemy is an allegory describing the processes of psychological reintegration. Many believe this is the new and correct interpretation of the alchemist’s riddle. It’s all psychology.

    The author goes on to describe, as best as he knows, what alchemists did and were really trying to do.

  39. Icepick said,

    Ice– honestly– i’m speechless.

    Kittens, puppies and babies, Karen. Kittens, puppies and babies.

  40. amba12 said,

    Especially kittens. And babies, of course. And, oh, what the hell. Puppies.

  41. Icepick said,

    You’re almost there! But you need to wonder about how something is bad, not if it is.

    @@

  42. Icepick said,

    Well, I’m partial to kittens and my own daughter. Basically, think happy thoughts about new things. If newly hatched iguanas are your thing, go for it!

    Actually I’m getting annoyed that the Momma Cat I’m currently feeding isn’t bringing her kittens around. I helped save them the day they were born, I’m owed!

  43. amba12 said,

    How old are they now? If they’re still little, she’ll likely get less overprotective as they grow.

  44. Donna B. said,

    Karen – I have never met anyone that I know has had botox, but I’ve seen people I’ve wondered about.

    I didn’t follow Insty’s link, but I remember reading some theorizing about that a couple of years ago. About the same time as the mirroring theory of autism. We learn, interpret, feel by imitating others and others imitating us.

  45. karen said,

    Last i knew, ice- you were waiting for a baby… now you have a daughter!!!! Congratulations! We saw my niece yesterday and here baby- my little great-niece(?)- & she is such a personality, now.

    I’ve got 3 girls and a boy– and you best be prepared, ice(kittens, babies, puppies– breath…)girls can be quite the handful. God gave me my son for the sake of my sanity, me thinks.

  46. mockturtle said,

    Having only daughters [and a couple of stepsons] I can attest to the difficulty of seeing girls through the period from puberty to mid-adolescence. But the mother-daughter relationship seems to right itself after the turbulent teens and my daughters and I are very close.

    My elder grandson [my very first] who just turned 20 now has a tattoo on his neck!!! :-O I saw him the other day and was appalled, although I didn’t say anything. WHAT COULD HE BE THINKING????!!!! I thought only gang-bangers had tattoos on their necks. Honestly, I lay awake half the night worrying about his future. :-(

  47. amba12 said,

    It’s probably just fashion, Pat.

  48. karen said,

    I suppose it could have been the Mike Tyson tat, instead. I think that is positioned from above an eyebrow and then around to the top of the cheekbone:0).

  49. mockturtle said,

    It does seem to be the fashion—several of Derek’s caregivers, including nurses, at the SNF have tattoos. Fads and fashions come and go but tattoos, alas, are permanent, or at least removed only with difficulty. I remember when I was a teen we were taught that ‘nice girls’ didn’t get their ears pierced. I was in my thirties before I had it done. ;-)

  50. Icepick said,

    How old are they now? If they’re still little, she’ll likely get less overprotective as they grow.

    Sorry, I just don’t get online that much now.

    They’re four weeks old as of today. The only thing is that I don’t know where she has stashed them. I’m pretty sure she still has at least some of them, as her teats are still rather pronounced, and even though she’s eating more food than my cats (who are all much bigger than she is) she’s still skin and bones. (She actually let’s me touch her briefly now, and yesterday started rubbing against my leg. I keep telling her that I want to see the kittens, but she is “not inclined to aquiese to my request.”)

  51. Icepick said,

    Last i knew, ice- you were waiting for a baby… now you have a daughter!!!! Congratulations!

    Time flies! And thank you!

    We saw my niece yesterday and her baby- my little great-niece(?)- & she is such a personality, now.

    I get lost in all that great-niece and second cousin stuff. If gets unduly complicated if one isn’t talking direct descent.

    I’ve got 3 girls and a boy– and you best be prepared, ice(kittens, babies, puppies– breath…)girls can be quite the handful. God gave me my son for the sake of my sanity, me thinks.

    So I’ve witnessed and heard.

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