This week presented the more intolerant members of the American Public (especially those on social media) a number of opportunities to shoot their mouths off. From the racist and homophobic responses to Coke's "America the Beautiful" to the self righteous responses to the heroin overdose death of Phillip Seymour Hoffman, it's been the sort of week that would drive Kuan Yin, the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy and Compassion, to tears.
The Coke commercial response was ugly, yet somewhat predictable: there is always a subset of American Society that forgets what language their ancestors were speaking when they got here (even if they spoke English they were probably mocked for their accent) or who are convinced that there is some way to reconcile "Equal Protection" with "Only the people I think are Americans." They can't stop the rising tide of acceptance (Coke wouldn't go out on a limb with such a commercial on Super Bowl Sunday without being pretty sure they were on the right side of history), so they take their complaints out on Coke for spelling it out,
But the self righteous response of many to Mr. Hoffman's death has been even more bizarre. The idea that a performer's by drug overdose completely invalidates their entire life work is ridiculous. Of course when a public figure dies, the cause shouldn't be swept under the rug either. At one time when a celebrity died publicists from their studio or record label would have "cleaned house" removing signs of drug and alcohol use, extramarital sex and potentially criminal activity even before the police were called. That wasn't right either.
I didn't hear too many negative responses in my own circles reference the Coke ads, but Mr. Hoffman's death was another story. Yesterday morning a coworker asked "Why is there a tribute to Phillip Seymour Hoffman on the front page of the paper if he died of a heroin overdose." I, and others pointed out that the cause of death made things even more of a tragedy, that we might hopefully use the event to educate people about the scourge heroin has become, and so forth. I also made reference to "hating the sin but loving the sinner". Later in the day when the amount of heroin found was made public, she made another similar statement to the effect that no one dying under such circumstances should be celebrated in any way.
What is missing from such responses to both media stories is of course compassion, one of the qualities that is supposed to make us a higher species. I don't think these people are incapable of compassion, they are simply so afraid that they refuse to open themselves to it. They are threatened by the death of a celebrity by drug overdose because it compels them to acknowledge that drug abuse is a problem everywhere, even in their town and circles, and not just homeless junkies. They are threatened by the Coke commercial because it depicts persons different than themselves as fellow Americans. Compassion would require them to identify with such people, and they can't permit that if they wish to judge and discriminate.
The Goddess of Compassion, who is said to hear the cries of all the world, probably shed a few herself this week .