The whole idea of compassion is based on a keen awareness of the interdependence of all these living beings, which are all part of one another, and all involved in one another. – Thomas Merton
Did you hear about the crash that happened in Nigeria last Sunday? 150 people were killed when a Dana Air flight crashed.
I first heard about it at a pool party. My immediate concern was whether or not one of my co-workers was okay. I called another colleague who confirmed that he was not on the flight. I hung up grateful, but filled with sorrow for the others who had lost loved ones.
On Monday, my experience distant became experience near when I learned that people in my office had lost family members. Their palpable grief hit home. I care deeply for my colleagues and have lost family members in a plane crash and could relate to their pain.
Still, it was a periphery experience for me until I stumbled across this article. I looked at the faces of those whose life was cut short and after days of thinking about the tragedy, I felt it.
The anguish nearly took my breath away. It also provoked questions for me about what inspires a connection to the suffering of others.
This is not just an existential question.
As a peace practitioner the question of what inspires compassion and empathy is a central one for me.
History has shown, via Rwanda, Bosnia/Kosovo, Cambodia, Haiti, Hurricane Katrina etc., the tangible difference between when the international community cares and when it doesn’t.
When the international community feels disconnected from an issue, people’s suffering largely goes ignored. When people feel connected to an issue, they lobby their governments and other influential actors to intervene.
And while multilateral bodies like the United Nations haven’t gotten the ‘how’ of interventions just right yet, it is clear that public pressure is a huge impetus for humanitarian interventions that save lives.
This makes the personal ability to show compassion and empathy, political.