Why Compassion Is Hard

Compassion underlies all world religions, most boldly embodied in the provocation “love your enemies as you do yourself.”  Yet in a world of violence and hatred, where people sleep in the streets of our wealthiest cities, it seems compassion is in short supply.

This shortfall of caring has been outlined recently by the comments of presidential hopeful Donald Trump, who’s exclusionary ideas stand in stark contrast to the peaceful world many want to work toward.

At a time of year when we tend to dream of world peace, and to that end, guilt ourselves and others into being nicer, it’s rare that we spend time truly understanding compassion.

In the following post, I’ll cover compassion from three perspectives: the scientific, the ideological, and the emotional.  The ideas expressed are largely borrowed from a number of TED Talks, and other areas as cited.

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The Secret About You

“Can you answer this question I read in this book?”

human_evolution_iconIt was biology class in 11th grade at Boise High School, and I had brought in the book “Darwin On Trial” from the church library to try and understand what I was learning in school.  Evolution was scary to me, a feeling that was reinforced by the youth pastor, who directed me to the book.

I was shocked how my teacher responded, a statement that burned into my mind, and to this day speaks directly to a serious problem we have as humans.

“No, I can’t.”  He blew me off.  My teacher refused to help me understand what was being taught in school for one reason: it challenged belief.

It took me years of self-study, reading books on science, philosophy and everything between.  I would come to understand that evolution was controversial in the US, and only in a religious sense.  The reason it was being taught in schools was simple: it’s a solid, well-supported theory that has stood up to testing for more than 150 years.  Evolution is fact.

Yet there is an implication to this idea that took even longer to process.  I consider it a shocking secret, because it’s the real reason we resist the idea of Evolution.

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Justifying Slavery

A catechist that a chief wanted to sell because “he taught doctrines that the ancients did not know about”, Les Baloïs (Haut-Oubanghi area, 150 km north of Liranga towards Impfondo, Congo), 1905, photograph by Father Leray, second series of postcards published by Father Augouard (before 1912)

How would you have felt about slavery if you lived 200 years ago?

Defending slavery today is completely immoral, but it’s wide practice and enormous benefits made it easy to defend for thousands of years.

Today we can feel good about having made an important social transition in human civilization.  We don’t enslave humans anymore.  It’s crazy to think we did.

This leaves me with a burning question: is there a modern equivalent?  Is there a practice future generations will find atrocious, yet is widely popular today?

I believe there is; another group being exploited through complete control. I believe that the way we treat animal life is a modern example of slavery.

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The Story of Us

Every culture has one: the story of why we are here.  These stories contain the most important stuff of our collective beliefs, which is why I think it’s time for a new story.


I’m most familiar with the story of Jesus, but there are many more with names like Buddha, Mohammad and Zeus.  All of these stories are fictional in nature because until recently, our ability to tell stories of this magnitude were limited.  Yet there’s something in them I find fascinating.

Beliefs are important because they influence the way we think about ourselves.

These may be stories of our ancient past, but they’re also powerful narratives intended to guide our behaviors. Beliefs are important because they influence the way we think about ourselves.

All major religions promote peace by holding individuals accountable to being good. While our definition of “good” may be subjective, nearly everyone agrees on the central tenants: be honest, don’t cause harm, and help others.

The only problem with the old narratives are that they aren’t true.  And their insights into the human being are outdated, calling their credibility into question. They are ancient stories crafted when we knew far less than today.

There is a better narrative in which to believe.  This narrative is based on the best of human knowledge: just the things we are most confident we understand.  It communicates an important concept that we are capable of doing bad things and need encouragement to do good things.  And best of all, it rescues the idea of personal growth from the spiritual arena. This narrative  tells the “Story of Us” from a scientific perspective.

Here is my “New Story of Us”…

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