I was reading another thread on this forum titled 'Perspectives on Non-Violence' and the talk of the death penalty reminded me of an article I wrote a couple of years ago about compassion. While not written specifically about people who had committed crimes the call for compassion I think fits just as well with them as with others - one of a few reasons I am totally opposed to the death penalty.
It is a longer post than most so I did not want to clutter up the other thread with it, and apologies if it is rather presumptuous to simply repost an article that is a couple of years old onto this forum, but I hoped it may be of interest to some.
A couple of nights ago a documentary1 about Maurice Simpson , a sufferer of Neurofibromatosis (a genetic disorder of the nervous system which causes tumors to form on the nerves and can cause rather horrendous facial disfigurement) prompted a discussion about who is deserving of sympathy in a western society.
My fiancée grew up in a society without the benefits of a free education, free healthcare or the safety net of benefits and government assistance; in fact the government was often the cause of serious problems or even death to a number of residents. By comparison life in the UK is easy, even for those who cannot work (or choose not to). She gets rather annoyed by an attitude amongst some Brits who feel they are owed so much by society and spend their time creating problems and complaining about how hard life is while not actually contributing much back to society. Maurice Simpson however had such a positive outlook on life, had raised a wonderful family and came across, in the programme at least, as an inspirational person who faced real personal hardship in a remarkable way.
This lead to a remark from my fiancée about Mr Simpson being someone you could actually feel sorry for instead of the idiots who go on shows like Jeremy Kyle (for those not from the UK just think of Jerry Springer). While part of me did agree somewhat with the sentiment of that statement I realised that it may be a bit too simplistic. Yes, if given the magical power to change something fundamental I would not hesitate to fix Mr Simpson’s illness and would certainly not want to spend my time improving the lives of those who think they are so badly off because they haven’t got enough money to afford the latest flat-screen TV and designer trainers. However thinking about the quality of life that people have I would think that Mr Simpson has a much better quality of life than many others due to his attitude of mind.
If we are able to walk well and see another being who is unable to walk due to a physical disability most of us would feel some level of automatic compassion towards that person who we identify as suffering.
If we are able to maintain a positive attitude towards life and are able to take immense enjoyment in the simple things that life brings (such as a refreshing cup of tea) then why do we not always feel the same automatic compassion towards a person who is unable to do the same.
The easy answer would be to say that the person unable to walk has usually had such a condition forced upon them by accident or physical deformity and that the person unable to see the beauty of life has usually no such external factor creating their troubles and hence is the cause rather than the victim. As I said, that would be the easy answer.
I think though we sometime forget where we have got our attitudes and feelings from. We cling on to them as being part of the essential nature of ourselves and forget that we received them during life from those around us. Obviously our genes do play a small part but so much of our outlook on life is developed by the people we meet, the things they say and the way they say them. Our close friends with whom we may have spent many hours of many weeks of many years, the random strangers who we may have met only briefly but have subtly changed our outlook on life. Having been given so much from so many it is even more important to recognise that having been given the gift of a positive view of life we should have compassion for those who have either not had that chance to develop it or not recognised how to. It may be that someone is unhappy because they have a real cause of suffering, yet it can also be the case that they suffer without apparent cause because they do not recognise that their own desires are the fundamental cause of suffering.
As is my habit I will finish with some words from someone who really knows what they are talking about.
Have compassion for all beings, rich and poor alike; each has their suffering. Some suffer too much, others too little.
- Gotama Buddha
1. My Brand New Face, Discovery Home and Health Channel, 23 Aug 2011