Throughout human existence many have demonstrated compassion and love for fellow humans such that it has been the norm for one human being to show concern for another in spite of the fact that they could be in no way related or even have an interest in such a person. Such people are often labelled as humanitarians and their hearts considered pure and kind to others since they show utmost good faith and other positive virtues. They have accumulated accolades globally for centuries and as a result folklore and narrative have been written about them. It is common knowledge that the likes of Mother Teresa, The Dalai Lama, Nelson Mandela and numerous other renown individuals have ascended to such highly regarded positions in society largely due to their kindness of heart demonstrated by selfless acts
Many a kind person have usually found themselves between a rock and a hard place having to offer both emotional and material support even in dire times when they themselves are weak and vulnerable. It is evident that, most people who donate to charity are not as wealthy as one would assume but rather some of them may have even made sacrifices just to make the life of another individual better than it actually was before. Thus begs the question: why would someone go out of their way to show compassion to another individual, what is the source of such a key human emotion, would someone show compassion to a person they consider a threat or an enemy to their interests?
Barbara Lazear Aschers essay titled On Compassion is a well composed piece whose chief aim is to question the reason as to why individuals show compassionate acts. It is written from an observers point of view following certain acts of charity in New York City and attempts to explain why the characters demonstrated certain charitable actions. In the first instance, a mother pushing her young child in a stroller is walking when she comes across a black man in a very horrible looking state. The man has a rugged appearance suggestive of the fact that he is going through a rough patch in his life. The womans first reaction is to grip the stroller then she fidgets in her purse looking for a dollar bill as the man stretches his hand out to receive the dollar bill (Ascher ,1).From this scene it is unclear whether the woman has given the man a dollar as a symbol of her compassion or out of fear that the man would harm her and her baby.
Here Ascher questions the source of compassion, she uses a pathos appeal in her vivid descriptions of the man, the reader is imprinted with a mental picture of a scary looking man who could possibly have made the woman fear for the security of her baby. Ascher goes on to find the source of compassion which she alleges could be as a result of seeing other people endure suffering. Such triggers empathy in another person therefore making them demonstrate compassion to alleviate their pain. Ascher states that were it not for seeing others in pain especially the homeless, many humans would not have learnt the virtue of compassion(Ascher,3).
Shooting An Elephant by George Orwell is an essay about the oppressive British Colonial System and its oppression of the native Indian population in the late 19th century. It is set at a time when Britain is already in control of majority of Indian trading cities and native settlements manages to capture Burma and annex it into its Indian colony. The main character is a young British police officer stationed in the town called Moulmein in lower Burma where he witnesses firsthand the human abuses the British Government in Burma orchestrates on the native population. A characteristic racial based segregation system enables the British take the best jobs and opportunities regardless of merit. There is also a lot of economic exploitation with the colonial masters accumulating most of the wealth and leaving the natives in a state of poverty.
The narrator views the treatment of natives as imperialistic and unfair and would rather have the oppressive system rid of. The narrator realizes the suffering of people he is in no way related to and feels remorse and empathy. Prisoners endure inhuman conditions described as huddled in stinky cages, their faces grey and cowed due to their buttocks scarred by bamboo beatings (Orwell ,1). The young man decides to have a stand against his affiliated home government which has employed him. Suffices to say that, in spite of the fact that the natives jeer him he still takes their side and wishes an end to their suffering.
The author demonstrates that one can have feelings of empathy and compassion towards people with whom they are not related in any way and who can jeopardize some of their interests. A strong realization is that the cruel imperialist system favors the young police officer yet he prefers the abolition of the system all in order to see the Burmese free of suffering.
The source of compassion is not clear-cut but scientists have come up with possible theories to elucidate this. Three key theories to explain is phenomenon have been brought forth:
- As a variation of love or sadness
- As a separate emotional state viewed according to emotional psychology
Due to empathetic distress whereby one feels distressed by the suffering of another person. This theory is based on the fact that people are able to emulate the feelings of people around them and feel the same way. (Hartfield, Cacioppo and Rapson,97).
Therefore, it has been universally accepted in the psychology field that compassion is triggered by about three basic components which are key towards making an individual display an act of charity towards someone in suffering. The criteria that inform such human behavior are that: people view suffering as not self-inflicted, the suffering ought to seem serious and that the person should picture themselves as having the same problem. (Hiadt,854).
In conclusion, I have come to the realization that compassion is an ingrained human emotion that is usually learnt by association with people undergoing suffering and whose key elicitor is the empathy the person feels when they immerse themselves into the situation felt by the sufferer. As a result, the individual goes out of their way to make such a persons life better in spite of the fact that they do not necessarily need have an association or connection whatsoever. The acts exhibited by kind people transverse human variations of age, gender, race and class hence it is common for someone to display compassion even towards people thought to be their enemies by default as was the case with the young British Police officer in Orwells Shooting An Elephant. The human race should therefore encourage the virtue of compassion by teaching about its importance to alleviation of human pain and survival.
Ascher, Barbara. On Compassion. Elle Magazine, 1986.Print.
BIBLIOGRAPHY Haidt, Jonathan. The Moral Emotions. London: Oxford University Press , 2003. Print.
Hartfield, Elaine, John Cacciopo and Richard L Rapson. "Emotional Contagion." Current Directions in Psychological Sciences 2(3) (1993): 96-99.Print.
Orwell, George. Shooting An Elephant. Shooting an Elephant And other stories. Harcourt, Brace. 1950.Print
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