gilt-deep compassion

Due to a surgery yesterday, I didn’t have the time and energy to devote to Frank’s Friday Focus, so you got a quickie “put a bright perspective on a bad situation” poem. Every now and again, those can be helpful, and I needed one. Hope it hit the spot for some of you as well.

So I figured I’d slide #FFFocus over to today, but then I realized Stream of Consciousness Saturday has become one of my (and many of your) favorite exercises, so I found myself in a conundrum.

It was easily solved when I remembered (oh, yeah) I now strive to avoid “binary thinking” at all costs. Rather than #FFFocus OR #SoCS….

So, here we go.

Gwaneum, fresh from the Cleveland Art Museum vault, meets day/week/month/year in a “very special crossover episode” of Frank’s Friday Focus and Stream of Consciousness Saturday.

I had to do a little research on Gwaneum (the Anglo-Korean translation of GuanyinGuan Yin or Kuan Yin, in case you were thrown off like I was…), so this will be a LITTLE less “stream of consciousness” than usual, but as much as possible, I’m going to try and keep writing and plug in some research tidbits as I write.

Gwaneum is the bodhisattva of compassion (Buddhist), and the inspiring artwork for this entry is a 400-ish year old statue/icon crafted in gilt lacquer on wood.

“Compassion” comes from the Latin “to suffer with”. This is often confused or used interchangeably with other words like “empathy” and “sympathy”, but there are significant differences. For one, empathy/sympathy are drawn from the Greek “pathos“, which means “feeling” – so when we are empathetic or sympathetic we are “feeling” like or with someone else. By contrast, compassion is drawn from the Latin “pati“, which means “suffer”. Com-Passion = Suffer With. In my opinion, it’s a good deal more “active” than the other words. In fact, the dictionary definition of “Compassion” is:

com·​pas·​sion | \ kəm-ˈpa-shən  \

sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it.

Aha! Compassion is not a word “kinda like” sympathy, it is a word that actually encompasses “feeling with” others AND “a desire to alleviate it“. And what are we feeling, according to the Latin?

Suffering. Distress.

Well, that doesn’t sound like much fun.

And it’s not. That’s why doctors and long-term caregivers actually can suffer from something that is being called “Compassion Fatigue“. It’s not in the DSM yet – give it time.

It is EXHAUSTING to suffer with someone or something.

Yet, somehow, we endure. Sure, not all of us. Some become jaded assholes, wall themselves off from others, leave it for “someone else” to worry about. Some recognize their limits and choose with whom and what they will suffer and HOW they will “suffer with” them. Non-binary – cool. I’m totally down with a spectrum of feelings and actions in play.

A friend pointed out to me a few weeks back that I was asking/expecting universal outrage and response to racism in America but that I was not exhibiting outrage nor expecting similar universal outrage or response from others to the current genocide in China. Not familiar with the plight of the Uyghurs? You aren’t alone. It was a good point. And it got me thinking.

First, not ONE of us has the capacity to be outraged for all of the outrages on our planet. It simply can’t be done. And it’s often enough to make us sit down and do nothing. Feel nothing. For anyone. Or anything. Ever.

Binary thinking – Be outraged for everything OR be outraged for nothing.

One is impossible and/or will kill you, and the other makes you, well… as I mentioned above, sort of an asshole.

For me, and I suspect for most, neither of these extremes are options.

So we become selectively outraged. You’ll be attacked for this. Why THIS cause and not THAT cause? Why THESE people and not THOSE people? What’s WRONG with you?

Well, I think the way you show there’s NOT something wrong with you is that you must take your selected outrage and DO something with it.

Generally, when you experience outrage, someone or something is suffering. Try “suffering with”.

Generally, when you experience outrage, someone or something is suffering. Try “suffering with”.

What does that mean? I can’t spell it out for you in every situation. I think a few factors come into play, proximity being one of them. Racism happens on my street, in my kids’ schools, and (infamously) in my home city of Detroit (or, more correctly, the disproportionately White suburbs of the metro area surrounding the disproportionately Black city itself). I have an outrage happening literally in my backyard. I sense I need to do something about it (my children are biracial – it’s personal), so it’s beyond sensible for me to turn that observation into compassion. What can I do to “suffer with” those who suffer this particularly local and closely felt injustice? How can I make an impact?

More choices to be made. I can tell you the choices I’ve made. I hope you’ve seen some of the choices I’ve made. Some of you have undoubtedly been stung by the choices I’ve made. Good. But I’m not going to delineate those here. I AM going to challenge you to look around enough to feel outraged about something. I’m going to encourage you to make it as tangible as possible and something where your outrage can logically be followed by compassion. What can I DO to “suffer with” and hold the ultimate goal of alleviating that suffering?

What can I DO to “suffer with” and hold the ultimate goal of alleviating that suffering?

“Doing” takes a zillion forms. Maybe you march, maybe you post, maybe you volunteer, maybe you write a check. I won’t tell anyone else how to “do” compassion. I might “suggest” (imply, encourage, propose, recommend) that you go back to the word origin (“suffer with” in case you’d forgotten already) and consider the actual cost to yourself in getting involved.

This is getting a little preachy – sorry, not sorry?

Speaking of cost – it DOES need to cost something, but we also DO need to consider what we have to give (hence “compassion fatigue”). It ties into our need to pick and choose our outrages: once you have gotten selective about where you choose to suffer (that’s called “privilege” right there), you need to be realistic about what that means for you, where you are, with the resources you have available to you (which include your time and mental/emotional/physical energy).

Which brings me back to the Gwaneum statue! (you knew I’d get here eventually). This icon of compassion has a gilt lacquer over wood. She has lasted over 400 years.

Some days I feel I only have gilt deep enough to enjoin compassion for about 2 hours.

Some weeks, the gilt rubs thin after a day.

Then there are years. And years. And years.

Like I said – exhausting.

But here’s the thing

the preacher punch – wait for it…

The people (animals, environment, oceans, planet) for whom we choose to show compassion, with whom we choose to suffer… don’t have a choice.

They suffer every day, every week, every year.

Black Americans – some of the people I choose to “suffer with” – have been suffering since 1619.

400+ years. Likely longer than this statue has been around…

Yet her gilt still holds.

Ours can, too.

Time to put some more of that “gilt” to work.

Your Friday prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday (#SoCS) is “day/week/month/year.” Use one, use them all, use them any way you’d like. Enjoy!

#SoCS comes from the website of Linda G. Hill.

Here are the rules:

1. Your post must be stream of consciousness writing, meaning no editing (typos can be fixed), and minimal planning on what you’re going to write.

2. Your post can be as long or as short as you want it to be. One sentence – one thousand words. Fact, fiction, poetry – it doesn’t matter. Just let the words carry you along until you’re ready to stop.

This week, Frank’s challenge was: The statue of Gwaneum and what she represents

About #FFFocus:

Frank Chloupek holds a PhD in Physics from The Ohio State University. We have been friends since our undergraduate days at Michigan State University over 30 years ago.

Frank hates poetry

(except for any and all Limericks about a certain boy from Nantucket).

He provides challenges, topics, themes, rules to guide whatever gets put together on Fridays.

If you would like to join the weekly challenge, feel free! Just reference “Frank’s Friday Focus” (#FFFocus) on your own page, provide a pingback (paste the URL link someplace in your post) to this page, and copy/paste the link to your entry into the comment section below.

Thanks, and have fun!


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