Today’s Slogan: Compassion!

Where strict enforcement of rule of law is vital for the maintenance of order, rigorous strictures and harsh constraints unfeelingly applied ignore our natural human fallibility, which pleads guilty, yet begs pardon and forgiveness.

Today’s Slogan: Compassion!

“Compassion is not religious business, it is human business, it is not luxury, it is essential for our own peace and mental stability, it is essential for human survival.” - Dalai Lama XIV

The concept of compassion is associated with God in that despite mankind’s disobedience and amid the ruckus that human beings create in this world, the Divine continues to shower uninterrupted blessings on all. What would one’s life amount to even if just a single blessing, say oxygen is withdrawn? It can convert this entire planet into a graveyard. Such is the attribute that does not discriminate between believer and non-believer. Everyone is a beneficiary. Just as the falling droplets of rain cannot distinguish filth from cleanliness, in the same way God’s favors know no bounds and are there to provide advantage to the poor as well as the affluent. Thus one can assert that being merciful and compassionate are signs of devoutness and divinity.

When these qualities find their way in the human heart, they promote compassion for all living creatures. Of course human beings have different levels of compassion that may or may not be subject to some conditions; or applicable or not, in different cases. While at one end of the scale some may be gifted with its abundance, at the other end there could be some who are devoid of this emotion. 

Every day we see incidents of brutality where life of an innocent is taken with unprecedented ferocity on extremely petty grounds and with no remorse. Yet there are instances of benevolence where an abandoned premature infant is cared for, raised and treated like royalty by doting foster parents. While the vicious may snatch someone’s hard-earned morsel there are some kind souls who willingly starve themselves to feed the hungry. As the revengeful abuse and dishonor their enemies’ virtuous women in the most heinous ways, the kind-hearted provide shelter to the destitute when no one comes to their rescue.

Compassion’s scope is not meant to be restricted to social work only but extends to all spheres of life. Whether at home, educational institutions, houses of worship, workplaces or where two or more people are interacting with one another, extending one’s care and support breeds compassion. 

Albert Einstein puts this concept in the most appropriate words: “A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”

The naturally compassionate ones can complain that their virtue may fail when confronted with the vicious or those who view their acts suspiciously, and quite rightly so. Not all are endowed with the ability to understand compassion, which is the reason why there is highhandedness, cruelty, hatred, revenge and such other apathetical attitudes whereby one human inflicts harm on another living being. A genuinely compassionate world can definitely not have atrocities in any form and where these are plentiful, an innoxious and carefree existence appears nothing more than a dream. 

As members of the society, we generally claim to have a soft spot in our hearts for our brothers and sisters yet when anyone does something, which causes us hurt or financial damage, we tend to, on the first available opportunity, strike back with equal or greater severity. Many a times, the perpetrators are powerful, leaving the sufferer in a state of helplessness and misery. 

However, once the tables turn reversing positions of strength, the real test of fortitude becomes the destiny of the one-time victim. In such a situation, the instinctive act would be to retaliate in the same manner and style, but a compassionate approach would be to condone and forgive, thus activating divine retribution. 

Perhaps the idea of pinnacle of humanity is the ability to restrain one’s temptations when in a position to exercise power. For its impact to be profound, compassion should be visible in all spheres of life. Just like love that needs to be expressed in words or action, compassion ought to be apparent too.

If government functionaries working at all levels develop compassion in their day-to-day dealings, the courts would definitely be rid of hundreds of thousands of cases that are pending since ages. If an analysis is conducted, it may turn out that the government has a good proportion of share in litigation where it is in direct confrontation with the citizens.

There can be no denying that a balance must be struck between excessive compassion and excessive retribution and this is where the judiciary is required to play its assigned role. Indeed, out of all governmental responsibilities, perhaps the justice system has the most challenging task where it has to walk an extremely thin line between correction and punishment. 

Where strict enforcement of rule of law is vital for the maintenance of order in a civil society, it has also been observed that rigorous strictures and harsh constraints unfeelingly applied, ignore our natural human fallibility, which pleads guilty, yet begs pardon and forgiveness. This is where compassion comes in, not as a substitute to justice but to complement stringent enforcement of law. Undoubtedly, maintaining a balance is both essential and difficult because justice overdone is meticulousness as mercy overdone allows permissiveness: severity and leniency representing the dark sides of each virtue that must be avoided. At this juncture only wisdom can help to steer clear of either extreme. 

The writer is a lawyer and author, and an Adjunct Faculty at the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), member Advisory Board and Senior Visiting Fellow of Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE)