Suffer with those who suffer: compassion in our times
by Leonardo Boff
A cloak of suffering and pain covers the whole of humanity, threatened by Covid-19. The culture of capital, in which we live, is characterized by individualism and a crying lack of cooperation. The Pope, on the Italian island of Lampeduza, seeing hundreds of Africans arriving by boat from Africa and being unwelcomed by the local population, said almost in tears: “Our modern culture has robbed us of compassion for our fellow human beings; we have become incapable of crying.
It seems that the inflation of instrumental and analytical rationality has caused us a kind of lobotomy: we have become insensitive to the suffering of others. The current president is the most tragic proof of this indifference. He has never visited a hospital overcrowded with people contaminated by Covid-19, many of them suffocating to death.
The pandemic made us discover our deep humanity: the centrality of life, the interdependence among all, the solidarity and the necessary care. It made us more sensitive. It brought back compassion.
Compassion is the ability to feel and share the passion of the other, to whisper words of hope into the ear, to offer a shoulder and say that you are there for them come and go, to be able to cry together but also to encourage each other.
Compassion is a transcultural human feeling. It can be found in all cultures: everyone bends over the fallen and bends down before the dignity of the suffering of the other.
Some time ago an ancient Egyptian tomb was discovered with this inscription, full of compassion: “I was someone who listened to the widow’s complaint; I was someone who wept for a misfortune and consoled the downcast; I was someone who heard the sobbing of the orphan girl and wiped her tears; I was someone who had compassion on a desperate woman.
Today the relatives of those killed and affected by Covid-19, which left in its victims severe sequelae, call us to live this better side of our humanity: compassion. St. Thomas Aquinas wrote in his Summa Theologica that compassion is more excellent than love for one’s neighbor; the latter is directed toward the other; compassion is directed toward the other who suffers.
From quantum physics, contemporary cosmology, and bioanthropology we learn that the fundamental law of all things and of the entire universe is not competition and the triumph of the most capable of adaptation, but the cooperation and synergy of all with all. Even the smallest and weakest has the right to live, because it has its place among all beings and carries within it a message to be heard by all. In this field, compassion among all beings other than humans also applies.
The following legend is told about St. Francis, who was especially compassionate with lepers, with the worm that could not make a hole in the hard soil of the road and who was compassionate enough to remove it and bring it to the damp earth, or with the broken twig:
He found a boy who was carrying in a cage doves to be sold in the market. He begged him: “Good child, give me these humble and innocent little doves so that they will not be killed and eaten by men. The boy, touched by St. Francis’ innocent love, gave him the cage with the doves. Whispering, St. Francis said to them: “my dear little sisters, foolish and simple, why have you let yourselves be caught? Behold, I am coming to set you free. He opened the cage. Instead of flying out, they went lining up on his chest and in his hood and did not want to leave. St. Francis took them to the hermitage and told them, “multiply as your Creator wills. They had many chicks. They did not leave the company of St. Francis and the friars, as if they were domestic. They only took off and flew away when St. Francis blessed them and let them go.
As can be seen, compassion, along the lines of Buddhism and Arthur Schopenhauer’s “Fundamentals of Morals” (1840), all founded on unlimited compassion for all beings, is not only important for those who are currently suffering, but for all of creation.
Let’s conclude with the inspiring words of the Dalai Lama: “Whether you believe in God or not, whether you believe in Buddha or not Even if you can’t help them with money, it’s still always worthwhile to express moral support and empathy. This should be the basis of our action. Whether we call it religion or not is the least of our concerns” (Logic of Love, 1998).What matters is compassion.
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