We are in the midst of Chanukah, a celebration of the human right to be free to pray. Christmas approaches – a celebration of the Prince of Peace, who tried to teach us to love and care for each other. These are two hugely beautiful and profound holidays.
Perhaps now would be a good time to take a deeper look at compassion – not as a three week binge in December, but as a day to day way of interacting with one another. I cannot help but be struck by the paradox of how high we hold compassion in our spiritual houses, and how low the reality of compassion has fallen. It has happened in increments, and so slowly that I’m not sure many of us have paused to ponder it. But the truth of it is, the very act of caring about people other than oneself has become politicized. Politicized! And to get there, English has been turned upside down.
Selfishness has been redefined as “self-reliance.”
Greed has been redefined as “the quest for the American Dream.”
Ignoring systemic poverty has been redefined as “rugged individualism.”
For the sixty-four years I have been alive, there has been a constant attack on compassion in the United States. It brought a wry smile to my face when I searched “bleeding heart” on line recently and got page after page of listings of flowers! When I was a youth, the target was the “bleeding heart liberal;” and there was nothing botanical about it.
A bleeding heart liberal was a person who held “too much” concern for the down and out, the hungry, the “under-privileged.” Do we have an obligation to each other? Should our hearts bleed? “God bless us, every one.”? As we reread our Charles Dickens this year, let it remind us just how long this conundrum has been with us. Nor did it begin with Dickens.
The truth of it is, our spiritual leaders have all been “bleeding heart liberals.” From Christianity: “It’s easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter heaven.” From Islam: “Wealth is the wellspring of endless craving.” From Confucianism, “The accumulation of wealth scatters a community, and a scattering of wealth is the way to bring the community together.” Similar teachings may be found in Buddhism, Judaism, and throughout our spiritual paths. So one would have thought that to be called a bleeding heart liberal would be considered a badge of honor.
But most who would have called themselves “liberal” forty years ago, now carefully call themselves “progressive.” The word liberal means free thinking, open to new ideas; but on the street, liberal came to mean ultra left-wing ideologue. And it didn’t stop there.
The next attack concerned how we deal with our differences. Respecting the sensibilities of a person who seemed different was ridiculed. Such consideration was no longer considered the “right” thing to do. Rather, it was “political correctness.” And thus Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, Mohammad and so many others took it on the chin yet again.
After that came the concept of the “Nanny State.” Some think of the “Nanny State” as epitomized by the outlawing of oversized soft drinks. But that’s the easy target, not the heart of it. The root and essence of antagonism towards the “Nanny State” is that our “Nanny” government says it has the right to tell a business that it can’t sell poison mixed in with its sausage, that a stock broker must tell the truth about an investment, that a slave owner hasn’t the right to own another human being.
The battle over government intrusion into private life was already raging in the vigorous attempt to defeat ratification of the Constitution – which was thought to be a much too liberal document. It turned horrific and bloody during the Civil War. And it continues to this day.
Whatever happened to state’s rights? we are asked. Whatever happened to caveat emptor? What happened to personal responsibility? What happened? – the Nanny State.
Yet even after being liberal was seen as something bad, after respecting people different from “us” became political correctness, and after the government trying to level the playing field became the Nanny State, even after all that, some people are still preaching compassion. To these people the label of “socialist” has been applied. Today, people who believe that we are all connected, that we actually owe our fellow humans something are called “socialists.” It is the idea that we “owe” it to others that is crucial.
“Charity” becomes something a wholly autonomous being “grants” to less fortunate persons (particularly in December). But so-called “socialists” say we owe each other a helping hand, and not simply during the holidays.
This is how completely compassion has been demonized. The idea that we are all in this together, the idea that we are indeed our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers, is now seen contrary to the “true” America.
I reject that. I reject it with all my being. I believe in an America that was conceived in liberty, and is dedicated to the proposition that all humanity is created equal.
God bless us, every one!