Friday, April 20, 2007

Compassion For A Killer

Some long time ago, I decided that I was going to allow myself at least one irrational prejudice: Namely the irrational belief that all talk show hosts are bimbos.

There are days when that actually seems to me a wise decision. Knowing I willfully harbor an irrational belief helps keep me more intellectually modest than I might otherwise be. Also, I haven't seen a whole lot of evidence to contradict my belief: Especially yesterday.

Yesterday, I tuned into a bimbo talk show host for five or ten minutes to discover him outraged that anyone would have compassion for the killer of 32 students at Virginia Tech on Monday.

I wondered why the bimbo thought it was any of his business to try to argue people out of their compassion? Then I realized that is precisely what makes him a bimbo: He deeply believes he's making the world a better place by trying to argue people into being less compassionate.

Apparently, the bimbo talk show host doesn't have enough personal experience of compassion to realize that compassion for a killer does not require one to condone the killer's actions, nor forgo trying to prevent them, nor forgo intervening to stop them. Genuine compassion requires none of that. And nor does compassion for a killer require one to have any less compassion for those who died at his hands.

Our understanding of what compassion involves very much depends on our own experience (or lack of experience) of compassion. Perhaps the bimbo talk show host either has not experienced compassion, or he has paid so scant attention to the compassion he has experienced that he has failed to understand it. Whatever the case, the bimbo's analysis of compassion is wrong and misleading.

UPDATE: Perhaps I've been too harsh on the bimbo. After all, I didn't listen to him for more than ten minutes, and probably more like five or seven minutes. The thought occurs to me now he might have been responding to those folks who argue that we should all feel compassion for the killer. If so, I can understand how that notion we should all feel compassion might irk him.

I am just as much against telling people who don't feel compassion to feel compassion as I am against telling people who feel compassion to stop feeling compassion. I believe whether someone feels compassion or not is, and ought to be, their own business.

I myself don't feel compassion for Cho, and I'm not about to try to change that. If I've learned anything about life, it's that I should not try to force myself to feel what I do not in fact feel. Down that path lies self-deceit and emotional stupidity.

Yet, I stick by my earlier observation that genuine compassion does not preclude intervening to stop someone from doing wrong. Genuine compassion is not about condoning a wrong out of some kind of sentimental attachment to the person who does the wrong. Genuine compassion has nothing to do with sentimental attachments. Genuine compassion, so far as I've occasionally experienced it, is something that transcends mere sympathy.


George said...

Not much mystery why the bimbo/host makes such a show out of deflating compassion for Cho; swagger sells. Tough talk sold the last presidential election, and it sells the ratings on talk shows all over the place.

Another advantage of forgoing compassion is it allows one to think of the criminal as entirely "other". Heaven forfend we should see any element of ourselves in Cho, even though there is ample evidence that ordinary people can do awful things when their institutional obligations require it. -DOF

Trinifar said...

One reason I appreciate Buddhism is its emphasis on freedom and compassion, personal responsibility and the interconnectedness of life. I think compassion is rooted in understanding.

Look at the increasing prison population and the way we treat prisoners. Wanting to change that comes from (1) an understanding that treating harshness with harshness utimately creates more harshness and (2) an ethical decision to say correction/rehabilitation is more important that retribution and vengance. It's compassion springing from not bleeding heart liberalism but a deeper understanding of the problem.