Bob Schwartz

Tag: compassion

Absolute and infinite compassion

Compassion is hard. Absolute and infinite compassion is much harder.

Even in the close and dear circle of those you love, there are moments and circumstances in which they test you. The next circle out of acquaintances and colleagues also seem to occasionally act in ways that demand compassion be stingily parceled out; you are, after all, not a saint. By the time you reach the outer circle of current news, there will be those who might need compassion, but as thoroughly evil leaders and bad actors, do not deserve any of ours, and you will deny them. Who could blame you?

Absolute and infinite compassion does not mean ignoring, forgetting or forgiving what darker things we know about others or, for that matter, what they may know about us. There those things are. In the face of that, though, we hold compassion as a valuable currency, from some perspectives our most valuable. We can spend it freely on anyone, without condition or limit, no matter the circumstances. For those who favor economic metaphors, instead of compassion being devalued because of such free spending, flooding the market, the value goes up, way up.

Is this some idealistic, head in the clouds, good-hearted theory? You may think so. Is it hard? Very, sometimes seemingly impossible. Is it good for us? It is good for you and everybody.

When you see that guy in the news (and it could be any number of guys these days, take your pick), you may think “I am not spending any compassion on that,” it is not surprising. It is an understandable struggle. But as odious as it is, give it a try anyway. You are in possession of a superpower, and as every superhero knows, the real challenge is using your power on the worst villains.

A 7-year-old girl dies in U.S. custody. The White House disclaims responsibility. The White House needs lessons in logic. And compassion.

When I was hungry you gave me to eat
When I was thirsty you gave me to drink
Whatever you do to the least, you do it to Me

Washington Post:

Trump administration not to blame for ‘tragic’ death of 7-year-old girl in Border Patrol custody, White House says

A White House spokesman on Friday called the death of a 7-year-old girl in Border Patrol custody a “tragic situation” but said the Trump administration is not to blame and called on Congress to “disincentivize” migrants from making long treks to the southern U.S. border.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection said Thursday that the girl from Guatemala died of dehydration and shock after she was taken into custody last week for crossing from Mexico into the United States illegally with her father and a large group of migrants along a remote span of New Mexico desert.

Asked by a reporter if the administration is “taking any responsibility for the girl’s death,” White House spokesman Hogan Gidley said: “Does the administration take responsibility for a parent taking a child on a trek through Mexico to get to this country? No.”

According to CBP records, the girl and her father were detained about 10 p.m. Dec. 6 south of Lordsburg, N.M., as part of a group of 163 people who approached U.S. agents to turn themselves in.

More than eight hours later, the child began having seizures, CBP records show. Emergency responders, who arrived soon after, measured her body temperature at 105.7 degrees. According to a statement from CBP, she “reportedly had not eaten or consumed water for several days.”

She died less than 24 hours after being transported by helicopter to a hospital in El Paso.

Here is the missing logic:

It is stipulated that the girl died in part from dehydration, also possibly from malnutrition.
It is stipulated by the U.S. CBP that she had not eaten or consumed water for several days.
The CPB had her in custody for eight hours before she showed symptoms.
During the eight hours she was in custody, she could have been given water and food, but apparently wasn’t.
Therefore, CPB could have done something to help prevent the death but didn’t, which indicates some responsibility.

As for the missing compassion, last night the White House held its grand Christmas Party. Maybe somehow, sometime, during the season, they will learn something. Miracles do happen.

A Benefit of Observing Hateful Speech: Patience and Compassion


A conventional reason for promoting free speech, even if hateful, is that it brings the hate out in the open, where it can be exposed and counteracted.

Here is another benefit, found in a verse from The Song of Realizing the Way (Shodoka) by Zen Master Yongjia Xuanjue (665-713):

There is benefit to observing hateful speech;
it makes you a good guiding teacher.
If you don’t hold a grudge against those who slander,
you don’t need to express patience and compassion.
(Translated by Peter Levitt and the Kazuaki Tanahashi)

Another translation:

When I consider the virtue of abusive words,
I find the scandal-monger is my good teacher.
If we do not become angry at gossip,
We have no need for powerful endurance and compassion.
(Translated by Robert Aitken)


A primary act of compassion is to lift the load and not add to the load of others.

Easy to say, not easy to do. Can you smile if unjoyful? Can you sing a happy song when you feel like a dirge?

Being true to your little self, no matter how dark it is, might seem like a good idea—if there is a little self, separate from the rest. We may be encouraged to let it all out, whether as a shout or a sulk. The complication is that if you think you are the center of the universe, privileged to make its own weather, you are right. You are the center of the universe, but so is everyone else. If they are to live subject to your clouds and storms, so you do to theirs.

Compassion, of which joy is an instrument, is at the top of the list for two reasons. It is the most powerful. And it is the hardest. So when next you wrap yourself in a blanket of seemingly private sadness, consider that you are most probably not alone. And that the smallest bit of light might be a big gift.

Notes for a George Zimmerman Sermon

This is Sunday, the day after the night before when the George Zimmerman verdict was reached and announced.

There will be countless sermons preached in churches today about the meaning of the crime, the trial and the verdict. The quick take of the media has focused on black churches for obvious reasons. In a case easily seen as having a racial component, the anger and frustration has been color-blind, but members of the black communities have reason to have special interest, if not to take it personally.

That still leaves a large number of churches that are not predominantly black. or more broadly, not non-white, or more plainly, white churches. This isn’t a monolith, nor is this an easy case and verdict to digest. There will be pastors who openly question how well justice was done, others who distance themselves from judgment, and maybe others who find a vindication of something in the verdict. Many more will not touch it at all, either because it has nothing to do with what goes on in church or because even if it does, the right words aren’t yet found to be spoken.

Whatever the identity of those in the pulpits or the pews, here are a few points that might belong in a George Zimmerman sermon.

The laws written by people and the higher laws (whether you call them the laws of God or something else) are two different things. Human imperfection extends to our inability to do perfect justice. Not only is it impossible to do perfectly, it is impossible for people to conceive of how it would be done perfectly in some other “better” realm. If there is a heaven or heaven/hell combination, exactly what are those trials like and what do the statures and rules of evidence look like? Whether you picture the 10 laws, or the 613 laws, or however many laws and interpretive regulations being litigated against you or those you love or despise, how does that case go?

There are some suggested solutions that are widely preached but, let’s say, inconstantly practiced. If we admit we don’t know everything, can’t build everything, can’t “correctly” judge everything, then we might be stuck with just some one-size-fits-all answer: forgive. This doesn’t mean, in the case of George Zimmerman, giving up on changing the laws, or not pursuing further legal tactics such as a federal civil rights suit or a civil wrongful death suit, or being friendly to George Zimmerman if you see him on your street or on your tv screen. Those are the worldly things we should feel free to pursue if that is what’s in our hearts. But in our hearts, where those higher laws are supposed to find a home, we are better off working on the compassion and forgiveness stuff. Especially with a tragic death, when we are the living, still capable of making things better.

Imperfection. Compassion. Forgiveness. Especially in light of this case. Oh God, that is so hard to take.

Why Compassion Matters

On August 4, in a hospital just a few miles from where this post is being written, John Wise, 66, snuck into the room where his wife Barbara, 65, was lying. They had been married for 45 years. She was suffering, reports indicate, from a triple aneurysm, and her prognosis appears to have been poor. He ended her life, shooting her in the head, though she did not die until the next day. His plan to shoot himself immediately after that was thwarted when his gun jammed. This week, he was charged with aggravated murder and faces life in prison without parole.

This has raised, not for the first or last time, the issue of mercy killing in the face of untreatable illness and declining quality of life. With an aging and ailing population, whether it is our family or ourselves, this goes each passing day from the abstract to the very real.

You can deal with this on an intellectual and practical level, weighing moral and legal issues, determining what you might do or ask others to do under a variety of circumstances. But hearing this story, the most natural thing is to cry. Not out of any failure to resolve those issues, but out of sheer compassion.

Compassion is what matters. All of our spiritual traditions commend it, but maybe none makes it more plainly central than Buddhism. The first truth of Buddhism is the reality of suffering; all else in how we are to live stems from this.

The story is told of a woman whose child had died. She came to the Buddha, who instructed her to visit neighbors and to return with a mustard seed from a house that had not been touched by death. She came back empty handed. This wasn’t to make her feel “better,” which it couldn’t. This was to help her see herself where she was, a living drop in the sea of suffering.

Compassion is more than walking in another’s shoes, more than the Golden Rule, more than “no man is an island.” It is the deepest possible recognition, beyond words, of the need that universal suffering creates. The need to care unconditonally.

If compassion is present in our lives and our politics, whatever we do cannot be completely wrong. If compassion is absent, nothing we do can be right, no matter how good it is meant to seem.