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how to be compassionate

I've only listened to "On Being" with Krista Tippet for American Public Media a few times, but it's well on its way to becoming one of my favorite podcasts. (Incidentally, my brother-in-law is working as a graphic designer for the podcast right now!)

This week on the "On Being" blog, Trent Gilliss shared some listener responses to last week's episode about compassion and compassion fatigue. One listener, Ed Brenegar, wrote:


"I agree the issue isn't compassion fatigue. Instead it is the disconnection that we have from the contexts of pain, suffering, grief, and death that others experience.
When we see images on television that move us to either compassion or sorrow, we are not doing so in the context where we are wholly given to a process where our feelings can have an outlet that brings some kind of resolution.
Thomas Merton, a Trappist monk, at the beginning of No Man Is An Island wrote, 'The gift of love is the gift of the power and the capacity to love, and, therefore, to give love with full effect is also to receive it. So, love can only be kept by being given away, and it can only be given perfectly when it is also received.'
"When we emotionally connect with global situations like Darfur or Newtown, there is a disconnection that can add to our own sense of sorrow.
It is important to remember that we are whole beings who need whole relationships, and the possibilities of mutuality to be present to be fully able to care. This is one of our great human challenges that I see."

This strikes me as so profound. When I wrote last month about my own difficulty responding to tragedy, I concluded that being open to the world- its pain, beauty, darkness, or light- rather than being closed-off in self-protection, was essential to being able to practice resurrection.  But I think this is an essential perspective, too -- that true empathy with a hurting world requires reciprocity, relationships of mutuality. It requires that I not be strong on the information and weak on the relationships, which is all too often my natural inclination.