I am thankful that thorns have roses.
-Alphonse Karr

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

Every now and then, I’ll meet an escapee, someone who has broken free of self-centeredness and let out for the territory of compassion. You’ve met them, too, those people who seem to emit a steady stream of, for want of a better word, love vibes. As soon as you come within range, you feel embraced, accepted for who you are. For those of us who suspect that you rarely get something for nothing, such geniality can be discomfiting: They don’t even know me. It’s just generic cornflakes. But it feels so good to be around them. They stand there, radiating photos on goodwill, and despite yourself you beam back, and the world, in a twinkling, changes...

But how? What is compassion, that x-factor that every faith (the founders, if not the followers) exalts as a supreme virtue? When the Dalai Lama says, “My only religion is kindness,” and the Pope calls for a “civilization of love,” it can’t be just mealy-mouthed piety. Kindness and love are powers unto themselves, able to transmute even the most relentless enmity. Nelson Mandela once remarked he befriended his jailers, those grim, khaki-clad overseers of his decades of hard labor in a limestone quarry, by “exploiting their good qualities.” Asked if he believed all people were kind at their core, he responded, “There is no doubt whatsoever, provided you are able to arouse their inherent goodness.” If that sounds like wishful thinking, well, he actually did it.

Why bother? Sure it’s better to reach out than to turn a blind eye. And yes, if you’re trying to get to heaven, it’s probably the route with the fewest traffic delays. But there’s another reason: A compassionate life is more fulfilling. If happy people can be believed—not my-fabulous-life-is-going-great happy, or new-age-Happy-Face happy, but those who emanate true contentment—it’s only when the ego bows out that the curtain rises on real life. That it’s more blessed to give than to receive is not just a moral nostrum, they say, but a prescription for authentic joy.


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