Tell us a little about yourself.
I’m a young-ish adult living in the Bay Area with my partner and pets. I’m a High Priestess in the Bloodroot Honey tradition of CAYA Coven, and a Priestess in the Wildflower Tradition, also of CAYA Coven. I’m also a practicing Christian, and I have an only somewhat abandoned blog at http://dreamsfromthewestwind.com/.
Why is compassion important to you?
I thought about this question for a little while, and the part I kept getting stuck on is “to me”- I kept wanting to launch into a discussion of various spiritual edicts regarding how we treat others, and the understanding of divinity and the self, and on and on. But that’s not really the question, is it?
So, to me. Ok.
Well, first of all, in my mind, compassion is part of the make-up of a Decent Human Being. All the manifestations of compassion- kindness, charity, solidarity, sympathy, responsibility, etc etc- are things I would look for in a Good Person, and I want to be (and like to believe that I usually am) a Good Person. So, because that is a goal I hold for myself, and since compassion is an integral part of that goal, compassion is important.
On a less ego-based level, all of my deities require compassion of me. I realize that this is not necessarily universally true of pagans- not all deities, and not all traditions, hold compassion to be important. But mine do. Thor is a god of the common people, and his compassion manifests itself in very sort of pragmatic ways (in my experience). He will protect you if you are weak, he will support you if you need support, he will give generously to you as much as you need. He’s not likely to sit and listen and hold your hand, but he will bring you food if you’re hungry, defend you from all comers as you need. Stella Maris and Isis-Hekt are both Queens and Mothers, and thus have compassion for all living things under their rule. It is both their duty and their nature to be compassionate to all who call upon them, and as their priestess, it’s my obligation to be the same. Tenger Etseg is perhaps the least easily identifiable as “compassionate” of all my deities, because he is very ethereal in a lot of ways, but even for him it’s an integral part of the interweaving of the world of humans and the world beyond. He might not see it as a separate necessary piece, but there’s not doubt that if it were missing, he would consider the world(s) broken or sick.
I sometimes say that, for me, paganism is about how I relate to myself, and christianity is about how I relate to the world. This is an over-simplification, of course, but I think compassion is a good illustration of why I say that- whereas the level of importance placed on compassion can vary wildly from pagan to pagan, depending on traditions and deities and paths, in christianity it should be of equally extreme importance to each christian. Obviously, this doesn’t play out in real life, but if you want to talk about foundational tenets for the christian faith, love and compassion are basically it. Ergo, as a practicing christian, I am bound to try my best to love my enemies, treat others as I would like to be treated, and cast aside all social boundaries in the name of radical compassion and love.
Where is it easy for you to give compassion? Where is it difficult?
I think it’s always easy to give compassion to those who please us in some way- whether that’s simply that they are people we like, or whether it’s to a cute animal who needs food, or a small child who needs a hug, or whatever. If the recipient of our compassion is someone/thing that makes us feel good, it’s easier. Also, when it comes at not a high cost to us- if I can just pull out some cash for the woman begging on the street corner, I probably will. If I have to go out of my way to an ATM, and then double-back, and then end up late to wherever I’m going? Probably not.
Likewise, it’s difficult for us to be compassionate to those who are in some way scary or challenging or disagreeable or repulsive to us. Is it harder for me to be compassionate to an evangelical? Absolutely, because I fundamentally disagree with them about many things, and that colors all my interactions with them. An unkempt homeless man on the corner who’s shouting to himself? Absolutely. He reads as dangerous and undesirable, so it’s difficult to bridge that gap to realize that he is as human as I am, and as inherently valuable and deserving of love as I am.
I think also for many of us, it’s easier to be compassionate when we’re getting some emotional reward from it- whether that’s someone being pleased with us for doing something good, or a strengthened relationship with a friend who is telling us their tale of woe, or whatever- we are more likely to behave well when we’re getting a good response from those around us.
I realize that this is starting to sound like I take a rather dim view of humanity, but that’s not really true. We are what we are, and the only way to grow is to recognize where we start, so let me also say that I think biology ties into this, too- we are designed to be a competitive species, and we have a hard time with the idea that there can be enough for everyone. Love is not a zero-sum game, nor is compassion, and by giving it we don’t lose it, but that idea goes against all of our animal instincts of needing to hoard things for our own survival.
Where do you think the world needs more compassion? How can we contribute to that?
Everywhere. The world needs more compassion everywhere. In our friendships, our romances, our familial relationships, our politics, our wars, our charities, our giving, our listening, our behavior toward animals, toward the earth, in our offices, our religions, our media, our everything. And the only way to contribute to that, I think, is to model it ourselves.