Ubuntu: the belief that we are defined by our compassion

Imagine if half the money spent by the entertainment industry where channeled into education, promoting understanding, mindfulness training and teaching a more compassionate way of life to others.


By Deb Avery

There have been some strange changes in our vocabulary over the years, and it’s brought about a shift in perceptions as well.

People often confuse compassion with weakness—nothing could be further from the truth. However, because of the image of the kick-ass, take names later prima donna of today’s pop culture, it seems as if the gentler, kinder, more compassionate heroes have almost been forgotten.

There has always been the “bad boy” image in movies and life. The list is endless, from James Dean to James Bond. They keep muscular and fit as they go about killing the bad guys, saving the day and winning the affections of the pretty lady.

The ladies are not left out of this in the modern era. No, ma’am. Just look at Angelina Jolie in Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, Scarlett Johansson in Lucy, or any number of leading ladies in pop culture today. Not only can they kick ass, they can do it googling on their iPhone, poised on the edge of a cliff while shouting witty insults to the person receiving the ass kicking. And if that wasn’t enough, they also look smokin’ hot!

We all have had times when we would love to be the person bringing justice to all the bad guys out there.

We get so sick and tired of seeing the suffering and injustices in the world. We want to help. Plus, there’s the whole ego and fantasy thing involved as well. But to me, having abs of steel, witty comeback lines along with a take-no-shit attitude does not a hero make. In this day and age of enlightenment can we not do better? Or has trying to maintain a certain image become more important than being compassionate and kind?

First of all, we have to look beneath the hype and realize that most of the badass images, even in the so called “good guys,” are still just a whole lot of ego. It may all sound and look good when watching a movie, but movies and TV are not reality. In reality, when the hero goes in guns blazing, swords slashing or bombs bursting, it’s because of the perception—true or false—of the us “against them” or “good against evil” mindset.

However, there are times, as with the military or when having to defend oneself or others from being killed, it can literally be “us or them.” In most situations, though, it is hardly ever that defined. The lines in the sand can be moved, or even erased, by winds of change.

So to me, it is much more difficult, much more wicked, so to speak, to use our minds and hearts instead of guns, knives, fists or insults. It takes much more courage to stand up against the actions of others while remembering that the person doing the action is a human being just like us. Are we so sure that in different circumstances, with different perceptions, different cultures, perhaps we might find ourselves in similar conditions? Today there are so many lives that have been changed for the worse because of injustices and desperate times.

Imagine if half the money spent by the entertainment industry where channeled into education, promoting understanding, mindfulness training and teaching a more compassionate way of life to others.

Would it be so difficult to let our heroes wear the mantle of compassion and be badasses in a whole new way?

They already exist, but our attention is drawn away from them to the more dramatic, hyped-up, violent images we see on the movie screen or TV. It’s more entertaining.

I’ll never forget the images of 9/11, watching the coverage in the aftermath. There are many things that will always stand out from that time. Hearing John Lennon’s voice ring true and clear as he sang from the past about “Working Class Heroes.” It seemed he had written the song just for that time. Nor will I forget the firefighters, police officers, and EMTs swarming toward the towers—toward life threatening danger—putting themselves in harms way, because of their willingness to help others—compassion for their fellow human beings.

I’ve never seen anything more brave in my whole life; so many putting their lives on the line for complete strangers. So many running into the unknown at all costs. There were many lives lost that day—both the rescuers and those needing to be rescued.

There were no hyped-up egos, no prima donna attitudes or witty comebacks that day, or in the days following. Instead, courage, strength and compassion were in overdrive.

One of the most eerie sounds I have ever heard was in a documentary some years ago about that event. It happened right after the first tower collapsed. The silence that occurred in the aftermath of the explosions and rumbling was pierced by the high pitched wails of numerous PASS devices going off, seemingly everywhere all at once. This device, the Personal Alert Safety System, is worn by firefighters while entering a burning building or other hazardous situations. It can be self-activated when a firefighter finds themselves in a situation requiring help. However, after 30 seconds of non-movement, it will begin alerting an eerie and grim alarm.

All of the PASS alerts wailing in the desolate silence of the aftermath on that day were from non-movement.

I know this because I volunteer in administration at our local fire department, and my son is a firefighter. There is a lot of good-natured competition coupled with witty and sarcastic comments, mixed in with a little bit of ego, in many of our firefighters. The attributes that stand above all the others are these: dedication, courage, kindness, compassion and the willingness and desire to serve others.

To me these are attributes of a real badass.

It takes a tremendous amount of courage, professionalism, emotional and physical strength to do what they do. They must be brave and tough while fighting a fire, yet be kind and compassionate to those who have just lost every material possession they owned. Sometimes they give life-saving measures to a dying person while trying to offer comfort to them and their families. They witness all kinds of traumatic injury, yet must gently, but firmly handle all situations.

These attributes are shared by other everyday heroes in law enforcement, medical personnel in emergency rooms and hospitals, hospice workers, social workers and many, many volunteers from all over the world. Then there are the simple, ordinary people who every day face obstacles that seem insurmountable, but they keep on keeping on. They do it for their kids, their families or for humanity in general. They do it because they care.

I’ll take these everyday, working-class, compassionate heroes over the hyped-up, super-image of badassery anytime.

Photo: (source)

Editor: Alicia Wozniak



Deb Avery
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