On Compassion

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It’s hard to be compassionate when you’re afraid. And charedim are afraid of everything. Of God, of change, of novelty. Growing up, a healthy dose of compassion would have gone a long way, but there was none to be found. Yiras Shomayim, fear of God, is what it was all about.

Sure, there are also words like Rachamim and Chemla, but those words are devoid of depth, and I have negative associations with their connotation. They imply pity, a sustenance of our pathetic selves by an almighty God who has chosen, with a flick of his benevolent wrist, to grant us another day on earth.

The “I vs. Thou” sentiment was everywhere. It wasn’t about who you were, it was about who you weren’t. You weren’t a goy, you weren’t an arab, you weren’t sfardi, you weren’t dati leumi, you weren’t chassidish, you weren’t chabad. Thank you God, for not making a non-Jew, or a woman.

Aish wasn’t much better. I don’t think it’s possible to truly shove your own religion down someone else’s throat if you have compassion – to others, and more importantly, to yourself. To force gay people to be straight. To push people to cut their hair, wear white shirts, dump their non-Jewish girlfriends. I see how hard Aish rabbis worked themselves, how dissatisfied they were with their progress and successes, and I see no compassion.

The bible itself, at least the Old Testament, which is all I can speak for, is full of brutality. Page 2 starts with a murder, and it’s all downhill from there. What’s the value of reading such things, especially as a seven year old? You’re either horrified, or if, as in my case, you’re made to read those verses over 40 times, desensitized.

Where, amongst all the death and destruction and the parlaying of good behaviors in exchange for less gruesome death, can one find some compassion? The Mishna would like to remind you that if you fuck up when you’re 80, you can undo an lifetime of good deeds – so “don’t believe in yourself until the day you die.”

Do not confuse empathy with compassion. The empathy I experienced most of the time felt like someone had read about it in a book, which they probably had. All about active listening: “I’m sorry you feel that way”, “how does that make you feel?” and “Uh huh”’s galore. You know who else sorry? Canada. And they don’t really give a fuck.

To me empathy is what you say. Compassion is what you don’t. With real compassion, more often than not, you’re lost for words. You are in awe of the human experience manifesting before you, and you acknowledge it with your eyes. Silence is usually your best contribution.

I’ve only discovered compassion recently. I was ambivalent towards the word itself and disparaging of the weakness that those who practice it supposedly displayed. Why the fuck would you possibly accept anything that is not The Right Way To Be, TM? And of course, pointing it towards myself was the hardest. MDMA and processing a shitload of trauma have been huge contributing factors to my progress.

I am grateful to those who have modeled it for me; demonstrating it through personal example and having compassion towards me when I had none for myself.

Because I sure as shit had no clue what it looked like.

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