Sunday, April 11, 2010

Pondering The Origin Of Compassion

Where did the ideal of compassion originate? I presume many will feel this an opportune moment to tell me, "the idea of compassion comes from God and GOD ALONE!" Apart from pointing out that this would relegate compassion in itself to complete meaninglessness, why is it so arbitrary?

Arbitrary you ask? Arbitrary in the sense that it is not always followed. As I've made clear on numerous occasions, ideals seem ideal in the strictest sense only when always followed! Otherwise, one could claim to be compassionate toward abused babies and abandoned puppies but show little other than contempt and judgment for child molesters and rapists! This does not seem to make compassion ideal, rather it seems to make it little more than convenient.

So what could reasonably explain each individual's arbitrariness regarding whom to demonstrate compassion to and whom to not? I have an interesting idea as to how we might consciously or probably more commonly unconsciously "calculate" this. We simply accord compassion to those in circumstances we could see ourselves in or have already been in. In this way, we project a sort of "hope" that if the roles were reversed, these same people would bestow compassion on us. A tit for tat so to speak or perhaps a more evolutionary term, reciprocal altruism.

Why, one might ask, does it seem so few have compassion for child molesters and rapists? Because very few (we will desperately hope at least) could ever see themselves committing these kinds of egregious acts! Hence why few seem compelled to sympathize with them.

On the other hand, take those that have committed extra-marital affairs. As I have pointed out previously, if all those that judged others for having affairs did not have it in them to go on and do just the same, there would be far fewer affairs. Perhaps many who have compassion and forgiveness for those who are found out to have had affairs either consciously or unconsciously acknowledge the fact that they would or at least could go on to do just the same (or perhaps already have) and in this sense they are, once again, simply projecting "hope" that if the roles were reversed, these same people would bestow compassion and forgiveness on them!

I think this relegates compassion to being nothing but evolutionary group selection. In this sense, we engage in a sort of reciprocal altruism because it benefits US as individuals! This is decidedly selfish! Not that there is anything particularly wrong with this but then what becomes of the ideal of compassion as having originated from a God that commands or at least desires us to be selfless?

Perhaps the pinnacle of compassion would be forgiving child molesters and rapists? Hmm.....not sure I could do this especially if MY child and wife were their victims!

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