Compassion is a paradox

 
Brick Bungalow
 
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Brick Bungalow
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06 January 2019 21:36
 

Just musings… no coherent case implied. All reflection welcome.

Premise: Compassion is an un-alloyed moral good and a fundamental pillar of any coherent moral theory. Compassion consists of well intentioned concern for the well being of others. Compassion is simultaneously a felt emotional state and a corresponding determination to act in the interest of other people. It is not rightly considered as complete unless and until acted upon. Merely feeling pity or empathy or making plans or having intentions does not count as compassion in this sense. It requires actual help.

The paradox: (or so I imagine) We cannot actually identify with the experience of other people directly. We cannot know their experience. We cannot experience on their behalf. Our felt reactions to the circumstance of others isn’t based on their experience but rather upon the superficial details that we can actually observe and the reports they give us.

We have finite resources including emotional and mental resources and therefore cannot express optimum compassion for all people at all times. We parcel compassion according to own best judgment. Our judgment is (I think) fairly poor in this regard. We are beholden to a large array of adaptations that funnel our felt sense of compassion in the interest of genetic fitness. We are compassionate toward those we perceive as cute or weak or needy or oppressed in some way. Usually a way that corresponds to our own narrative.

Our emotions are extremely efficient at projecting our own desires and values onto situations where they are unlikely to be shared by the objects of our attention. Compassion, in this sense can actually be quite harmful because it obscures our most efficient understanding of immediate needs. Consider a childs innate desire to rescue an apparently abandoned baby animal. Acting on our so called ‘best instincts’ is often the worst course.

Compassion can represent an extraordinary waste of time and resources. We are assaulted by a deluge of stories and images of people in dire situations. In most cases our personal power to assist is limited or non existent. The feelings we have about remote circumstances can and do deter us from the kind of direct and local action we ought to engage in. I will accept challenges on this point but I think there is good data to support it.

Essentially, we act upon our estimation of an experience we cannot possibly know and our estimation is quite likely far from the mark. We ration compassion on the basis of superficial circumstance because that’s all we have direct access to. There are almost definitely people in your immediate vicinity who are in some extremis that you cannot understand or appreciate. There are also people (probably) who present as desperation and crisis but are actually thriving in terms of private experience. I offer these speculations based on my personal experience of having represented both states and having had to rebut the inappropriate interventions of others.

I would ask: Assuming you have family and friends who hold your interests close how often do others get it right on your behalf? How frequently does the offered help correspond to the needed help? If the score is low what might help to increase it?

 

 
icehorse
 
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icehorse
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07 January 2019 08:30
 

Well we do have mirror neurons, and they seem to be essential for psychological stability. Even a crude example: think about a bar full of football fans watching a game. And then there is a brutal hit. Everyone winces and gasps. That’s their mirror neurons in action. You could call them your empathy neurons. So, while they’re imperfect to be sure, I’d say we can have compassion, unless you’re arguing for 100% accurate compassion?

 
 
Brick Bungalow
 
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Brick Bungalow
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07 January 2019 12:56
 
icehorse - 07 January 2019 08:30 AM

Well we do have mirror neurons, and they seem to be essential for psychological stability. Even a crude example: think about a bar full of football fans watching a game. And then there is a brutal hit. Everyone winces and gasps. That’s their mirror neurons in action. You could call them your empathy neurons. So, while they’re imperfect to be sure, I’d say we can have compassion, unless you’re arguing for 100% accurate compassion?

Agreed. It’s a long ways from black and white. I agree that compassion has a robust biological basis. At some level I suppose I’m worried about the very old confrontation between reason and passion. Compassion seems to be the latter by definition and by common root. As communities improve I think that problems are increasingly demanding of reason and, in some ways increasingly requiring of less or at least more modulated forms of passion.

I’m wanting to marry an emotionally healthy persons desire to help with a mentally healthy persons ability to help. My own experience is that these are frequently not aligned.

 
EN
 
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EN
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07 January 2019 14:19
 

Sometimes the need is fairly obvious and objective. Take the typical Good Samaritan story - a passerby sees someone in obvious need, like needing to be saved from a burning car. The objective need is clear, and the compassion leads him to take the absolutely necessary action - save the person from the fire.  The more remote we are, the less likely the accurate correspondence between the need and the response. A plea for money to save the starving children in (name the country) may arouse compassion-like emotion, but how certain are we that a donation to such-and-such relief organization is going to actually help. 

Compassion begins at home. There are some pretty obvious needs that arise on a daily basis around us.  Focus on those. Those are the ones that caused the evolution of the emotion, anyway. It is only relatively recently that we’ve even been aware of what happens a long way away.

 
Jan_CAN
 
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Jan_CAN
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07 January 2019 15:26
 
Brick Bungalow - 07 January 2019 12:56 PM

... At some level I suppose I’m worried about the very old confrontation between reason and passion. Compassion seems to be the latter by definition and by common root. As communities improve I think that problems are increasingly demanding of reason and, in some ways increasingly requiring of less or at least more modulated forms of passion.

I’m wanting to marry an emotionally healthy persons desire to help with a mentally healthy persons ability to help. My own experience is that these are frequently not aligned.

I think that as communities are changing (e.g. increased urbanization), where people are living closer together but yet more separate from each other, that there is an increasing need for compassion, those thoughtful human kindnesses that soothe the soul.

When thinking of these things, I can’t help but to remember my late mother, a perfect example of an emotionally and mentally healthy person’s ability to help; but I just think of her as generous and kind.  She could instinctively put herself in another’s shoes and quietly and unobtrusively provide the help that was needed.  Perhaps the ability to help others effectively and thoughtfully is somewhat of a learned skill, one we need to try to cultivate in ourselves, using both our hearts and minds.

[ Edited: 08 January 2019 19:12 by Jan_CAN]