Compassion: part 1
"A human being is part of the whole called by us ‘universe' - a part limited in time and space. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty."
We are a society of humans.
In our meme-culture of whittled down concepts it's easy to forget that there is no US vs THEM. In reality it is US vs US. It always has been.
We're taught that there is an enemy. In every age there has been someone arguing that someone else is out to destroy the fabric of our society. First, this is impossible. Societies that are successful are flexible. They are amoebas. They change and grow and recede and develop. The thing they don't do is stay the same. So a healthy society isn't a dead piece of woven fabric; it is a living, breathing thing all on its own.
In the United States I think we are still in many ways dealing with our youth. We still place tremendous value on bootstrap pulling self sufficiency and we still have a wild west streak of vengeance in us. We want people to succeed or fail on their own and we want those that cross us to pay, dearly.
The problem with this thinking is that it has been proven over and over again to not be effective or even true. There are many examples of the efforts of other communities of dealing with "criminals" and in almost every case the compassionate route is the one that is most successful long-term to the society it involves.
There has been a circulating story of an African tribe who take an offender and for two days all of the tribe come together and tell the person things that they love about him/her. I don't know the validity of this but we have real, proven examples of how compassion shapes a society.
The Netherlands in the 1990's had overflowing prisons. Then they changed the way they approached inmates and began truly rehabilitative programs instead of retributive. They saw that the inmates who used their time in prison to educate themselves were more likely to NOT recidivate but became part of their communities. They began to look at programs that could invest in the inmates to bring them back into the fold of society. They saw this not as investing in the inmates, but investing in society itself.
It worked. By 2010 they had so much vacancy in their prisons that they struck a deal with Belgium to import their prisoners!
The reason why this is significant is because our culture in the US tends to be one of aggressive punishment for crimes, often with little to no system for comparison from crime to crime. Due to the history of our culture most Americans have a gut reaction to criminals. We want them to pay. So thinking compassionately about them is not natural, it goes against everything that we're taught. But what if we did?
In our current model criminals pay, but we pay in the long run. We have more inmates (by more than double) per capita than any other industrialized nation and it keeps getting worse. Our inmates have the highest rates of returning to prison too.
Yet the Netherlands is having to search for people to fill their jails. Not only that, but they are consistently ranked as one of the happiest places to live! I think this is primarily because when you invest and reinvest in the lowest end of your society, you are investing in the health of the entire society. When you are compassionate towards the worst things in life you end up being more compassionate with yourself too.
I think the intent behind this post is that we begin to approach the problems in our society from a perspective that includes the WHOLE society. We too often forget that the people or communities that we view as problematic to the society are still PART of our society. When we're looking for ways to improve, we have to include them in the mix. We have to treat not only ourselves with compassion, but our enemies. Because in the end our enemy is ourselves.