I recently came across a TED talk video by Daniel Goleman, the author of Emotional Intelligence, that piqued my interest. The byline was “Why aren’t we more compassionate?”
So why aren’t we?
An illustration from this man’s talk tells of an experiment done among seminarians or pastors in training. The experiment was such that the seminarians were given the task of giving a sermon in an adjoining building. They were split into two groups: one group was tasked to deliver a sermon about the good Samaritan, while the other group was given random topics to deliver. Each seminarian would have to travel from one building to another where they will deliver the sermon. Along the way, a man with ragged clothing and battered face would sit by road. The experiment was to see who would help the man.
You would expect that the people who received the topic about the good samaritan would definitely help the man. Apparently it was revealed that only a few took the time to help the man and some of them were assigned the random topic. Most of the men regardless of topic ignored the ragged man. Their reason for ignoring the poor man ranged from being late from their appointment to being too absorbed in preparing for their sermon.
This illustration leads us to one answer to Daniel Goleman’s question: we are less compassionate because we are too self-absorbed. It doesn’t help that you are a social worker, a minister of God, a spiritual leader or any other profession wherein compassion and morality is expected. It doesn’t help that you have read the good Samaritan a gazillion times and seen all the adaptations of the story. If you are too absorbed in your affairs, you will not notice others around you.
This fact is further accentuated by our label for this generation: selfie generation. The selfie may pertain to our current addiction to take photos of ourselves doing trivial everyday things. But it also means the rise of our narcissism and apathy. You don’t have to go far. Look at the streets of Metro Manila and you will see a lot of people too busy to help the old cross the street or ride the jeepney. Look around and you will see a lot of men and women hurrying to work without giving a glance at that old man whose coins have scattered on the pavement.
Compassion, empathy, care for others seemed to be dead.
For more than a month now, a group of young professionals have gathered and tried to revive the compassion and leave the “selfie” of this generation. In Project Grow’s Get Over Your Selfie Series, the group explored the lack of compassion amongst themselves and tried to find ways to overcome their selfishness. With much help from the teachings of the Bible particularly the example of Jesus Christ, the group discovered amongst themselves that compassion is not actually dead but just sleeping. What is needed is the right focus, the right model, and the right attitude.
The right focus comes in one’s desire to be closer to God. The more we magnify God and the more we try to discover His purpose for our lives, the more we take our focus away from ourself and more on Him. The more we desire to discover God’s character, the more we open His word and open our heart to His teachings.
The right model comes when we focus on Christ, God’s main representative on earth. He was a man who noticed everything around Him and answered all of their needs regardless of nationality, gender or spiritual maturity. He never looked down at anyone and never focused on His own needs but instead that of others.
Lastly, the right attitude comes with a persons desire to be like Christ. Following His footsteps may indeed be tough – ask the seminarians who were experimented on. Yet with the right desire and commitment to God, compassion may not be far behind.
Each of us must strive to “get over” our selfie and see the world around us with the eyes of compassion