If we want a society where violence does not rule, then we must emphasize and elevate the value of compassion. Compassion is a sympathetic consciousness of the distress or suffering of others, together with a desire to alleviate it. Compassion is not weakness. Compassion is strength. A compassionate society would demonstrate, at minimum, three expressions: recognition of health, realization of interconnectedness and devotion to true service.
Recognition of Health
Abraham Maslow, in his book Motivation and Personality, describes the state of psychological health. In an attempt to be descriptive and draw our attention to the unique, he does not use the word "responsible" to describe the psychologically healthy person. Instead he uses the word "Gemeinschaftsgefuhl ," a term invented by another psychologist named Alfred Adler . In discussing this term, Maslow states the following:
"This word is the only one available that describes well the flavor of the feelings for mankind expressed by self-actualizing subjects. They have for human beings in general a deep feeling of identification, sympathy, and affection in spite of the occasional anger, impatience, or disgust described below. Because of this they have a genuine desire to help the human race. It is as if they were all members of a single family. One's feelings toward his brothers would be on the whole affectionate, even if these brothers were foolish, weak, or even if they were sometimes nasty. This is what Adler called the older-brotherly attitude. [i] "
As a society, we need to understand that compassion is the quintessential sign of health. Conversely, lack of compassion is a sign of illness and we absolutely need to recognize this in order to make any true progress.Realization of Interconnectedness
The Eyjafjallajokull volcano in southern Iceland erupted twice in less than a month in the spring of 2010. The ash from the eruption flowed over the continent of Europe and grounded air traffic in France, Germany and Britain to name a few of the affected nations. The Washington Post reported that during the grounding more than 1 million passengers a day were unable to travel as planned. The lost business from the airlines was estimated at $1.7 billion. During the episode an estimated 28,000 flights a day were grounded. [ii]
Our world is interconnected. The new world of today is interconnected in ways it has never been before. Do I really need to provide any greater proof than this incident related to the eruption of the Iceland volcano? I live in Everett, Washington a world away from Iceland. Yet, my life was personally affected in two different ways from the volcano's eruption. In the history of mankind, has this sort of personal daily effect been experienced before concerning the eruption of a volcano half the world away?
This is just one example of interconnection. But we experienced another just recently in the H1N1 virus scare. When this new form of flu came out, supposedly from an outbreak in Mexico, there was an effort to isolate it by the United States. Again, I live in Everett, Washington almost as far from Mexico as one can get in the Continental United States. The virus was identified April 23 rd in Mexico, which began closing public places in an effort to control the spread. By May 10, 2009 local news was reporting that a Washington State man had just died of the virus and was the third U.S. sufferer to die. On May 10 th news reports indicated that the virus had spread to 30 different countries including Japan and Australia. [iii]
We are interconnected, intertwined, in so many different ways. The world economic crisis is just one more example of the many ways this is so. The economy in Greece flutters and the U.S. stock market takes a dive. A woman protesting the elections in Iran is shot on the street and we see it minutes later live. A drill platform explodes in the Gulf of Mexico and oil spreads through the pristine ocean waters. European nations volunteer ships to help control the spill because they know this had better be stopped as soon as possible. The further it spreads the more people it will affect around the world.More and more I am left with the feeling that my life is both less important and more important than it has ever been before. This is so because any decision I make in my job, in our world of today, has the potential to effect everyone else in the world. Conversely, my decisions are less important -- perhaps even ineffectual -- because the effect for good or ill is even more dependent on the quality of the work someone else does.
These facts, if faced honestly and openly, drive one to the conclusion that we are in this together, for good or ill. It is no longer possible to run and hide. We must recognize the fact that we are living life together, as one humanity.Devotion to Service
Maslow found that the healthy individual often conceived of their life purpose in the sense of what he called a "mission. " On this topic he said:
"Our subjects are in general strongly focused on problems outside themselves. In current terminology they are problem-centered rather than ego-centered. They generally are not problems for themselves and are not generally much concerned about themselves, e.g., as contrasted with the ordinary introspectiveness that one finds in insecure people. These individuals customarily have some mission in life, some task to fulfill, some problem outside themselves, which enlists much of their energies."
Some may doubt the practical applicability of these ideas. But in opposition to such a claim I will cite football coach Pete Carroll, coach of the Seattle Seahawks. In his book Win Forever he says:
"What I learned about Maslow's insights challenged me to start asking: What if my job as a coach isn't so much to force or coerce performance as it is to create situations where players develop the confidence to set their talents free and pursue their potential to its full extent? What if my job as a coach is really to prove to these kids how good they already are, how good they could possibly become, and that they are truly capable of high level performance?"
Here you have a football coach who has conceptually reformulated his job as coach as an act of service to his players.
In my view, every action properly done is an act of public service no matter how high or how lowly the actor. Every action is significant and as such, every single person is critically important. In this way every individual can serve his fellow citizens and repair what is broken. And every single individual becomes a solution, instead of the problem.