Friday, February 20, 2015
To Hear the Cries of All the World (1000 Voices for Compassion)
Some years ago, a friend gave me this statue. She is Kwan Yin (or Guanyin), who represents compassion and mercy in many Buddhist traditions. She is a Bodhisattva, one who has been freed from the cycle of reincarnation, yet chooses to return to help mankind. Known as "She who hears the cries of all the world" she is a protector of children as well. I have heard her spoken of as a goddess of last resort, whom one appeals to when all seems lost.
It was the idea of Kwan Yin as "She who hears the cries of all the world" that came first to my mind when I heard of the 1000 Voices for Compassion. After all, isn't that what compassion is all about? If we pick and choose the people and causes we feel compassionate towards, we are kind of missing the point. Compassion means considering the points of view we don't share, the persons we don't understand. This doesn't mean agreeing with everything they say or do. It doesn't mean we must condone their actions, and indeed we are sometimes called to oppose or even condemn. But it does mean trying to see their point of view, understand how their experiences lead them to where they are.
One of the reasons discourse has become so toxic lately is, I believe, because we have forgotten to look at things from other people's point of view. We expose ourselves only to our own beliefs on politics, religion, and society. We all stand on opposite sides of a great divide, and there is no way to build a bridge across when we refuse to even acknowledge that there are people on the other side. If you find yourself somewhere in the middle, you can fall into the chasm of despair.
Last fall, during all the debate over several police related shootings I found myself in a quandary. I work in law enforcement, and have great respect and sympathy for police officers and the work they do. And yet as a mother I identified with the devastation inflicted on the families and friends of the shooting victims as well. I found this to be a rare position however, as the public discourse around me quickly divided into those supporting law enforcement no matter what their actions, and those who condemned anyone who wore a badge and carried a gun. There seemed to be no nuance, no middle of the road. There seemed to be no place for someone like me. I was so disheartened by this toxic division that I found myself without inspiration, unable to write, for publication at least, for some weeks.
The famous words of Atticus Finch to his daughter Scout, "You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view...until you climb into his skin and walk around in it” is a perfect summary of what compassion should be. Atticus doesn't approve of the actions and beliefs of many of his fellow citizens. But he still respects them as persons, understands how they arrived at where they stand, considers many to be his friends; even while trying to thwart the things they would do which he believes to be wrong.
Considering the point of view of others not only helps us understand them, it helps us understand ourselves as well. When we test our beliefs against beliefs of others we will find either enlightenment and a broader viewpoint or a firmer and more secure sense of why we stand where we do.
And this brings me back to Kwan Yin. She is represented as hearing the cries of all the world, not just those who are doing the right things, not just those who practice compassion, not even just those who believe in her. She hears the cries of all the world.
It is of course, like many divine ideals, an unattainable thing. But it is also, like many divine ideals, a thing to strive for. We may fail, but we can get closer to understanding each other, and maybe understand ourselves a little better as well.
If only we could all hear the cries of all the world.
This is post is part of 1000 Voices for Compassion, a link up of bloggers all over the world posting today, February 20, 2015. To read more go to 1000speak.wordpress.com or search #1000Speak on Twitter.