It has struck me recently, how a diminishing resource in our world has begun to seriously impact our lives. Everything runs through shortages at some point, perhaps with the shortage increasing the value in the short term, but as I have seen the value of this seems to be lessened as well.
The resource that I am talking about is compassion.
I have really felt over the last few years how it seems that people have hardened against each other. Cynicism is running rampant, and the bitter, dog-eat-dog nature of the corners of our souls has crept out into the light. This isn’t to say that the world has turned into the Lord of The Flies all of the sudden, but attitudes seem to be harder now.
I can’t blame most people for being more defensive of their well being. The world is a less stable place in general. So many people who just a few years ago who were doing well are now down on their luck. Families have lost their homes, people have lost their jobs, and even those who have avoided direct hardship have sat through layoffs and the pain of watching neighbors and friends get struck with tragedy.
It is unsettling to many to be suddenly exposed to the reality that the gap between a good life, and losing everything is far, far smaller than they ever realized.
A few hers back, when my workplace was going through layoffs, your yearly bonus was keeping your job. There were multiple rounds of layoffs, and when the time for the rounds occurred, everyone hid in their office. You sat and tapped away at your keyboard, looking busy and hoping that management peeked into the office next to yours for a quick chat. You could hear the crying through the walls.
At the end of the day, it was the mid level manager who was shaken the most. Upper management didn’t get their hands dirty, that task was on someone else’s plate. All you could do was offer support to them, sometimes in the form of a bottle, and a taxi ride home.
Many of them couldn’t stay after all was done. They just couldn’t look anyone in the eye anymore.
From something like that you can walk away and say, “Better you than me!” In truth or in defensive jest. But it eats you up a bit inside.
After that stopped, things became a little more competitive. A little more vicious. You just knew that your teammate was judged against you, and it might not be for a few percentage points of a bonus, it might be your job. It might be your house. It might be your family.
It isn’t a good feeling to live with, and it doesn’t leave you right away. You look at the world with colder eyes, and meet the cold eyes of those outside who have had their own experiences much the same. Or perhaps far worse.
Recently, we have had to deal with the impact in our life of some, in positions of power, who saw their status as a way to push or hold others down, justly or unjustly, it didn’t matter. Something had happened in their life, and embittered, they wanted to pass this along to the next person.
That person was us.
With newly added stress and expense, do we pass it on? Do we break the cycle? Can we break the cycle?
When you meet the eyes of those less fortunate than you, after you have been wronged, do you take solace in their misfortune, or do you want to give the compassion that they were denied, even if it was not offered to you? Do you need to offer it first to receive it? Might you not receive payback for some time?
Does it matter?
Even now, looking across a world of hardened hearts, I still see compassion as a renewable resource. But I know that the return on investment isn’t immediate, at least in any direct sense. Treating others with dignity and respect, and trying to make their lives better does not mean that you will get the same treatment, at least not in the short term. That isn’t the reward for behaving ethically.
Compassion is it’s own reward, if you choose to receive it. And you must choose.
Perhaps if we all choose so more often, then we will get the return that we so hope for.