We have all heard of The Golden Rule, and every religion has their version of it. “Do onto others as you would have them do on to you.” “Treat others the way you would like to be treated.” And others. We use the Rule to ingrain in everyone a social sense of compassion; Don’t kick someone when they’re down, because you yourself wouldn’t like it. But I think the Rule is a bit too vague.
Wikipedia says that “Compassion is the response to the the suffering of others that motivates a desire to help them.” I enjoy this description because it is simple, yet it also sets up its own parameters. First off, there needs to be suffering of some kind, then it needs motivate a desire within the onlooker to help end or alleviate the suffering. This must more instructional than treating others how you would like to be treated.
My main issue with the Rule is that people, although enjoy compassion, don’t like to be treated the same as some else would like to be treated. For instance, I don’t like assuming that people need my help. I find it insulting if someone walks up to me and thinks that I can’t take care of my own business. There for if I were to treat others the way I would like to be treated, then I won’t help anyone (unless they are obviously struggling or in danger of hurting themselves or others). So if I see an elderly woman taking arm full of groceries out of her car, I won’t insult her independence and inner strength by assuming she has taken on too much of a load.
However, I have friends and relatives that are the opposite. They will assume everyone can use their help, and no matter the topic, activity, or scenario, they will swoop in a save the day every time. Done in innocent spurts, I can politely tolerate it, but as a constant pattern, I find it rude and insulting. I’m sure they find me rude and compassion-less, lacking any measurable sympathy.
In both cases, we are practicing both The Golden Rule and being compassionate. The difference is our sensitivity to the suffering of others. To me, moving a large piece of furniture alone will motivate me to assist someone. To others, carrying three grocery bags motivates them to help.
I agree that we need to teach others compassion, but throwing a one-liner at them does do the trick. Compassion is a personal application of sympathy, empathy, and pity. One should not confuse the right thing to do with the only thing to do. When it comes to suffering, we should stress the importance of compassionate action at the end of the suffering spectrum, and we should be more realistic when it comes to ambiguous suffering.