The Dangers of Reserving Compassion For The Few And Not The Many


I see a lot of people writing about how we should, post-election results, allow ourselves the time to – and recognize the importance of being able to – embrace feelings of mourning, of anger and disappointment, of frustration and sadness. I couldn’t agree more. From the deepest recesses of my soul. These are real feelings attached to real human beings having a very real experience. It’s not only important to allow ourselves to feel these things, it is essential.

It’s also important to recognize when we don’t extend that same opportunity and compassion to others. When Bernie Sanders lost in the Primaries, the thing I heard the most from my most-avid Hillary-voting friends, was “Your candidate lost. End of story. Get over it. Shut up and stop whining.” This was followed by a barrage – both public and private – of Bernie Sanders supporters (and Independents) being shamed and derided, of being told they were “getting in the way” and, in no uncertain terms, to be silentI even had friends who mockingly shared a video of a young Bernie Sanders supporter crying when Bernie lost. They found it funny, absurd, ridiculous.

It is essential in breaking down the many actions taking place this election cycle, to comprehend the immense emotional and cultural need for a woman president in this country. The mourning happening now is real, as was the deep, deep desire that allowed many to see a monumental and long-overdue opportunity for healing and recognition and empowerment that should have taken place generations ago.

For millions of people, Bernie Sanders was also a similar voice of hope and progress. For the first time in generations, tens of millions had someone running for president who actually had a chance of winning who represented OUR voices and needs and vision for this country and the lives we want to live and to offer others living here. Someone who would fight the stifling corruption and corporatization of our political system and its laws. Someone who heard all of the voices out there, not just some of them.

I recognize that, in his first campaign, Obama offered us many similarly Progressive ideas. He spoke eloquently and passionately about them. And that meant a lot. And we voted. But once in office, Obama turned out to be far less Progressive than many of us had hoped or expected. He didn’t have a track record before becoming president of being particularly Progressive, but he at least heard our voices. If nothing else, he was a stepping stone toward Progressive ideals. He won ON those ideals. He just didn’t govern on them.

Bernie was someone whose entire political and personal history has been in the service of fighting for those ideals, even when it was the least popular thing to do. To be so close to seeing that future come to fruition was monumental. It was hope in its greatest form. It was a chance for a future we had been told would most likely never happen in our lifetimes, like gay marriage, something we were told repeatedly the rest of the country simply wasn’t ready for. To watch it not happen due, in part, to the most powerful political machine in the history of the world tipping the scales away from Bernie and in Hillary’s favor, was both catastrophic and heartbreaking to witness. To watch the nomination go to someone who was not only the candidate that almost all empirical evidence suggested was likely to lose in the General, but who was also the most embedded representative of so much of what we were fighting against, fighting to move beyond, someone who represented for us a major step backwards, not forwards… That was rough. That was painful.

But we were met from our fellow liberals, many of whom are now calling for compassion and understanding and a fair grieving period, with anything but that. In its place, we received mocking, shaming, derision, even direct and unrestrained anger and hatred. And what do you think would have happened if Hillary had won the General Election? Would those who voted for her, believed in her, would they have shown compassion for Trump supporters whose candidate lost? No less Jill Stein supporters or Gary Johnson supporters? Would they have been gracious winners and shown compassion and understanding? Or would they have shared pictures of Trump supporters crying and mocked them as was done with Romney voters in the previous election? As was done with Bernie supporters in this one.

And if your knee-jerk reaction is to say, “Well, it’s not the same thing. You can’t compare what Hillary meant to people with what Bernie meant to people or what Trump meant to people.” Then know you are standing on the precipice of engaging directly in the polar opposite of compassion and understanding.

Compassion is an empty gesture when it is reserved only for those who share your beliefs, your perspective, your interpretation, your experience. Just like fighting for the rights of people who are in your life, but at the expense of millions of others whose suffering you never have to witness, whose lives had already become unbearable and whom we were promising absolutely no possibility of hope. Only more of the same. Just like you can’t claim to be fighting for the rights of all women, while in the same breath drawing lines around which women deserve to be in your group and which ones don’t. I saw a lot of that, too.

One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned from this election cycle was that calling oneself a Liberal or a Democrat does not automatically place one on the side of equality, inclusion, or compassion. In far too many cases, it’s quite the opposite. We have no more claim to those words than anyone else. And we are no less susceptible to being pulled toward self-destruction and cruelty and intolerance than anyone else.

We all, every last one of us, need to be vigilant in fighting our temptation to not only see others as our enemy, but ourselves as more deserving.

The pain and fear and disbelief and loss many of us are feeling right now is real. Very. Fucking. Real. And we HAVE to mourn. It’s essential to healing and to eventually being able to move forward. What’s equally important is to never forget that, in the future, when others are feeling those same feelings, even if you are not, even if what you are feeling is the polar opposite of that, THAT is when compassion has true meaning. THAT is when you can affect change. THAT is your opportunity to embrace your country, your community, your world, and all the people who live in it with you.

Let’s try that.

One thought on “The Dangers of Reserving Compassion For The Few And Not The Many

  1. its good to embrace feelings of mourning, anger, frustration and sadness stemming from what, exactly? from the belief that humans are infallible and politicians are always true to their word and the disappointment in finding out that they are both human and fallible? well, there is a game-at-large we’ve agreed to which means results are largely out of our hands. that is government.
    what is not at all funny but definitely absurd and ridiculous is anyone making those kinds of competitive comments you mention, but since these do not reflect on me they do not bother me so much. i have learned that compassion and understanding arrive at the door more readily if one predicates a world view on the notion that everyone is ‘right’ in their own way. not everyone lives life on the same terms on the same level of comprehension, though, so you’re right not to denounce anyone for having a point of view different from your own. but who, then, are you speaking to? who do you know, for example, that has the guts to publicly retract their viewpoint out of pure humility rather than from the shaming that occurs due to the ravings of popular opinion fads?
    since when was there a collective emotional and cultural need for a woman president in this country? sounds more like some folks have a deeper issue to struggle with while others maybe find the idea a kind of a turn-on, to me. someone has the idea that everything ought to be legislated and politically correct. such ‘progressive’ ideas sound an awful lot like the thought police to me. we need some changes and need them accomplished by whomever, be it a male or female figurehead, be them on smaller or larger thresholds. the empowerment you speak of is as limiting as the point of view of your commentary because it assumes too much: you simply can’t pretend to know what anyone else requires for their own development, let alone for an entire country.
    if you recognize that Obama turned out less progressive with a capital ‘p’ then how are you finding it so difficult to accept the turn of events occurring now? there simply exists no one person who would ‘fight the stifling corruption and corporatization of our political system and its laws’ because you’re speaking of revolution on a grand scale. if there are lessons-at-large to be learned on a scale other than in our hearts, in private, then how can anyone know just how these lessons should come about? sadly, it seems people learn faster on an individual level from turmoil, tragedy, upheaval, and even then such ‘learning’ is only short-lived. weren’t we supposed to learn en masse from the great wars of the last century? how long did ‘never again’ last?
    the new administration may inadvertently ’empower’ the very people it doesn’t overtly appear to represent. think about that. please actually think about it…
    i have applied the following tenet and found that its miraculously, alchemically true: Gandhi said: “We but mirror the world. All the tendencies present in the outer world are to be found in the world of our body. If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. This is the divine mystery supreme. A wonderful thing it is and the source of our happiness. We need not wait to see what others do.”

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