When Compassion Fails

I talk a lot about the importance of having compassion and using a compassionate approach in all things, especially when dealing with people who think differently than you. But compassion is easily misunderstood as empathy and respect. Just because I am trying to understand the feelings of another person and I respect them doesn’t mean I sympathize with their beliefs. Compassion involves recognizing and trying to understand the suffering of others and then doing something to eliminate that suffering. Based on that definition, you cannot have compassion for those who inflict suffering. You can (try to) empathize with them and respect them as human beings, but you need not have compassion for them.

Except what I saw in the George Floyd video and what we have been witnessing around the country for since (and before) its inception is not human. The complete disregard for black lives that is occurring even up to now is sickening. It’s hard to imagine the amount poison a single person must have in their mind and in their heart to unflinchingly extinguish an innocent human life, and that poison is strong enough to contaminate the surrounding community.

As an Asian American, have I faced discrimination? Not really. My dad certainly did, and so did my ancestors. But from what they’ve described to me what they experienced is nothing compared to what black people face to this day all across this country and around the world. The violence, the looting, that’s what happens when change doesn’t happen fast enough (or at all). The question is why are people more outraged by the destruction of buildings and the loss of inventory than they are about the fact that people are dying at the hand of the police and “vigilantes” solely based on the color of their skin. I’m not saying the violence right, but peaceful approaches in support of the black community and protests against the police murdering of black people have been widely ignored and rebuked. Contrast that to just a few weeks ago when our federal governments scrambled to reopen the country as white people with assault rifles stood on the steps of government buildings demanding haircuts.

My least favorite phrase in all of this is “all lives matter.” What an useless and ignorant thing to say. Of course all lives matter. The problems is a good portion of the country doesn’t believe black lives matter. This is not some narrative spun up by the black community, or the media, or by liberals. If you are a black man in America you are around twice as likely to get killed by “law enforcement” than if you were any other race, whereas white man’s risk is less that of the average man (this already taking into account population sizes).1,2

Lastly, I also want to take a second to step back a detach any type of preconceived notions of morality. Imagine (if you don’t already believe) there is no absolute moral code. No right and wrong. Beliefs in morality come from background and experiences, but in the scope of the universe, there is no good and evil….there just is. Humans having been killing each other (and among other things) for all sorts of reason since the beginning of humankind. Does that make killing morally good? Certainly not. Does that make not killing morally good? Equally so. But we as humans evolved with unparalleled capacity for empathy, compassion, and cooperation that makes us in some ways objectively different from all other life on this planet.

It’s that capacity that compels some people to fight for those who are suffering; because something in their biology tells them that its right. For other’s, that same biology compels them to do hateful acts and makes them indifferent to the suffering of certain groups of people. But if we stand up for each other and if we fight for what we believe is right, I’m confident the compassion of the former will win out in the end…. and that would just be natures way.

  1. Edwards F, Esposito MH, Lee H. Risk of police-involved death by race/ethnicity and place, United States, 2012–2018. American journal of public health. 2018 Sep;108(9):1241-8.
  2. Edwards F, Lee H, Esposito M. Risk of being killed by police use-of-force in the US by age, race/ethnicity, and sex. PNAS 2019 Aug;116(34):16793-16798

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