Tuesday, January 1, 2019

In Search of Empathy and Compassion

On an atomic level, every human being is made up of at least 60 of the 94 naturally occurring chemical elements.
Eleven of those elements (oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, calcium, phosphorus, potassium, sulfur, sodium, chlorine, and magnesium) are necessary for life. The remaining 49 (or more) elements are trace elements.

On a molecular level, every human being is made up of water, proteins, fats (lipids), carbohydrates, DNA, RNA, dissolved inorganic ions, gases, many other small molecules (such as amino acids, fatty acids, nucleobases, nucleosides, nucleotides, vitamins, cofactors) and free radicals.

On a body composition level, every human being is made up of muscle, fat, bone and teeth, nervous tissue (Brain and nerves), hormones, connective tissue, fluids (blood, lymph, urine), gases (including intestinal gas, air in lungs), and Epithelial tissue.

Okay, so we’re all made up of the same material.  How are we different?  There’s the differences perceived by our three of our senses such as Visual (body shape, size, hue, hair), Auditory (voice), and Olfactory (you stink, not me).

Yet the ultimate way we are different has to do with the development and use of our brains. Our intelligence and personality. Lessons learned or ignored. Our use of logic and emotion.  Decisions made and actions taken. Compassion and empathy.

I’ve met celebrities and famous athletes.  I’ve met Corporate CEOs and executives.  I’ve met poor people and rich people.  Once you meet and interact with people, it is difficult to not conclude that the concept of anyone being “special” or better” than anyone else is complete bullshit. The differences between people for the most part have no intrinsic value except within a given social construct.  Is a person who has deftly navigated their way up the corporate ladder to middle management a better person than a sheepherder? That business person may be considered “better” or more valuable within a free-market economic social construct, but that same corporate hotshot is useless in rural Mongolia, where the sheepherder is valued.

Having value and usefulness within a given social construct is something we all attempt to attain, but what about having value and usefulness for all of humanity?  The more I thought about the concept of someone being “better” than another, the more I kept coming back to one universal trait that impacts in only positive ways for all humans, yet is not valued highly among most social constructs on the planet:


As much as I’d like to say that more people need to be more compassionate, the realist in me knows that first, more people need to show SOME compassion. It’s sad to see the lack of compassion in our society today – stunningly so.  I see a good amount of empathy, which is fine, but empathy is a way of relating – it’s understanding how someone feels, and trying to imagine how that might feel for you.  Compassion is the next step - it’s being empathic, and taking some kind of action.  Oh, I suppose there are some cases where there appears to be compassion without empathy, but empathy is essential for true compassion.

Don’t get me wrong - there’s a lack of empathy in our society too – I think we, as a society, need to make the full move to Empathy and compassion in order to grow and better ourselves.  I’m not sure how to achieve that goal, though…and the idea that compassion is slipping away scares me.

Compassionate people are the best people.  Period.