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OUR STRUGGLE: There are many reasons to ignore those in distress, but probably only one why we shouldn't And who is my neighbour?
COMPASSION springs forth from the heart unbidden, for it derives from that part of man which is hallowed and pristine and without contrivance.
But then, in its meandering journey from the soul's depths to deed, the clear water flows into the province of blessed and absurd Reason, into every rivulet of thought and rivers of logic, and becomes less than it ever was.
This came to me even as I considered questions asked of a tale of misery told many months ago in this den of a column charitably lent to me. Then was burdened upon readers the anguish of a being who lost family and home in a forest to noisy contraptions and natural cruelties.
Ere the end of the story when a bird was revealed to be the hapless creature, it had the pity of many and the prayers of a few. But once its "true" nature was known, the bird became, well, just one insignificant bird. A creation of fiction unmeriting sympathy or empathy, sadly.
Deep and disturbing is this conditional compassion which afflicts all.
For some, it's like the flu for it comes and goes in season. For many, it is as the plague, for the weakness stays and cheats them of the liberty of life and goodness of grace that must come from a merciful heart.
To be sure, most of us are in the company of the latter. Benevolent hearts beat within, but calculating graceless logic, which is the economy of our times, persuades us to act outside the circle of kindness.
Consider the compelling story of the good Samaritan. It was a period of deep hatred between two peoples. One considered the other inferior and without worth. Like how some regard their maids.
Against this backdrop, one man fell victim to a band of thieves. Stripped of everything and badly wounded, he cried at death's door.
His "kind", able and strong, passed by his place of despair, but pressed on without delay. No hand was extended, no hurt was mended.
Then came the despised Samaritan, who "had compassion on him. And went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him".
A lesson for the ages. But in our time, do we possess the courage and conviction to be a Samaritan to the point of inconvenience? Or will we analyse and scrutinise and rationalise, which are our great skills?
Thus, of the woman with four children and a rascally husband it will be said: "She is suffering, but I will not help her because her man is a rogue and she should not have married him." Of the man who is lame and pleading comes cruelly: "Let his own people lift his burden. They are many, and do they not dot the land?" And of the shelter for orphans: "Let the people of their faith care for them."
If we believe we do not make such statements, how well do we deceive ourselves.
But the one who told the parable of the Samaritan more than two millennia ago was remarkably different.
And so he was kind to every being in distress, even to the person who was a thief until moments before he died in torment. This teacher was able to do that because he always saw first to the needs of others. We, on the other hand, will not, because "my wants" come first.
Can we, like him, be compassionate unconditionally? The answer may lie beyond heart and reason.