Friday, October 16, 2015

An Early Memory of Compassion

One of the earliest memories I have is living in Manilla. I must have been less than 4 years old because that’s how old I was when my parents moved away. I remember there being many stray animals that we tried to bring inside but my parents always caught us and told us to get rid of them. My dad always claimed to be allergic to animals. I even remember hiding a kitten or puppy behind the couch but my mum yelled at me to get rid of it.

I remember the torrential downpours and thunderstorms, nothing like the dry weather we get in Southern California. I remember some newborn kittens lying in our porch. I remember there being two of them and they were wailing in the wet rain. They were so tiny, only inches long. My brother and I watched and I wanted to save them. I remember how desperately I wanted to save them but my parents strictly forbade it. I watched them suffer from the shelter of our door. My brother and I put a handkerchief or napkin on top of them and watched as it disintegrated in the rain. Eventually, our parents made us go to bed. When I came back the next day, the orphans were gone.

I can recall it as if it were yesterday, the feeling of being small and helpless. I know that compassion is innate. I felt it when I was so young. My sense of compassion and curiosity was bigger than fear and apprehension, though I learned to fear things a few years later--even animals. I recall the feeling of wanting to save something smaller than me, of wanting to nurture something, even though I was so small and helpless myself. But I couldn’t do it because there was a larger authority forbidding it. I went against all of my instincts because a larger authority told me “no” and I had to obey.

I was just a child. These days, I’ve quit jobs and risked my own reputation to do what I felt was right. I hate the feeling of helplessness. I’m an adult now. I don’t have to bow down to someone larger than me. I can do things for myself. Yet, I see it all the time, adults allowing bad things to happen because some authority figure tells them not to do anything. It happens in companies, clubs and in science experiments. Our greatest sin is our fear of judgement, of authority and of other people. Because of this fear, people get beaten, raped, cheated and killed. Witnesses stand by and watch helplessly when they could do something. They don’t. They’re afraid.

This is why I’ve made it such a point to conquer fear. Without courage, no other moral has value. Action takes courage. You can’t do what is right or what you want if you are afraid. You can say you are a good person as you watch your peer rape someone in front of you without the strength to stop them. Without courage, what good is that supposed goodness?

“Courage is the most important of all the virtues because without courage, you can't practice any other virtue consistently.”
--Maya Angelou

I wrote another blog on this subject many years ago here: