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If there is any kindness I can show, any good thing I can do to any fellow human being, let me do it now, and not defer or neglect it, as I shall not pass this way again.
-William Penn

From "Field Notes on the Compassionate Life," by Marc Ian Barasch:

If there's a facet of human nature that, when you hold it up to the light, shines bright enough to blind you, it's altruism. A selfless deed, witnessed up close, is like a lamp blazing up from darkness before your pupils can adjust. We're a little bedazzled by people who don't seem to be out for themselves, who do good to others without stopping to consider if others will do good unto them. The altruist lives in this world, with its grubbiness and inconstancy, but doesn't always seem entirely of it.

In Judaism, the term hesed ("steadfast love") refers to God's unbounded caring that never wavers-as well as what we who are made in His image are capable of reflecting. (One scholar calls hesed "the aspect of divinity which seeks to bestow love and blessings without limit.") Agape, an ancient Greek word for the most unlimited, unselfish, accepting form of love, was adopted by early Christians to describe humanity's proximate attainment of God's love for his creation. It is said in Genesis that He not only handcrafted each creature, but "saw that it was good." (I am charmed by one theologian's proposition that agape be translated as "Seeing-Good.") Key to agape's character, says a Christian ethicist, is "a feel for the preciousness of all human beings."

Here compassion is synonymous with a love not meted out according to merit, but falling like spring rain on the virtuous and the sinner alike. It has potency in the world: It creates and transforms, and those whom it touches touch others. Said a student of the Hindu spiritual teacher Neem Karoli Baba, "What astounds me when I am around Maharaji wasn't that he loved everybody. After all, he was a saint, and saints are supposed to love everybody. What astounded me was that when I was around him, I loved everybody. It's the kind of love that's contagious."

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