A small step for a big change: Rational compassion

Big sister comforts and embraces her little brother to alleviate fears and anxieties

Human nature is a concept that has been debated for thousands of years by philosophers,  and more recently by psychologists, a wide range of scientists, but also by common people. This concept is essential to comprehending our own nature and our purpose on Earth. While there is no common definition or shared understanding of human nature, I believe that empathy is a prevalent characteristic of human beings. Whereas human nature differs substantially from individual to individual and is understood and manifests itself distinctly across countries, cultures and communities, oftentimes there is this shared feature of humans: empathy. We can connect that to the fact that across cultures and borders people seem to want similar things, such as health and happiness, in whichever way they might manifest themselves for the individual. The desire to be healthy might be associated with what the Epicureans suggested of human nature: that it is quintessential to our nature to avoid pain and to seek pleasure. Thus, when witnessing suffering in any perceivable way, in ourselves or others, our instinct is to avoid or to remove the cause of pain. That is a natural reaction because our first response to human suffering is feeling emotionally touched and feeling empathy.

The next thing we could do is to act on the feeling of empathy in a rational way. That would bring us exactly to rational compassion, a concept supported and spread by Paul Bloom through his book “Against Empathy: The case for rational compassion”. We could easily employ our rationality to act on our feelings of empathy if we believe ourselves to be rational beings, as Aristotle claimed. How can we use rational compassion in our societies? How can we apply it to make countries a bit better for their inhabitants? For instance, as Paul Bloom suggested, we could commit to analyzing which charities and NGOs are the most efficient worldwide and start by donating a certain monthly amount to these organizations.

More specifically, how can we use rational compassion in my own country, Romania? First of all, the most useful thing would be for each of us to change the perception we have of animals and people in need of support, money or treatment by educating ourselves and by reading more about manners of contribution to those in need. I believe that in Romania there is a high need of workshops and seminars conducted throughout schools and universities that could lead to future generations understanding that less is more. Give a bit of what you have, renounce some of your material possessions and you can help others lead a better live! What is more, there is a dire need for pupils, students and other categories of people to get involved with charities and NGOs, to learn more about these organizations and to start volunteering. The more direct contact with and the more awareness of societal issues we have, the more we can develop the feeling of empathy and act on it afterwards. I also believe that certain sensitive issues that people misconceive should be publicly discussed in educational environments. Therefore, universities in Romania should learn from internationally famous universities that have a variety of societies for like-minded people. These associations provide students with an adequate space to socialize, to generate revolutionary ideas and to create innovative projects. The student societies we usually lack in Romania and we definitely need are: LGBT and feminist groups, animal rescue and animal protection groups, environmental groups. and minorities’ rights groups. Another thing to do is to use crowdfunding and other social platforms to raise awareness of those in need. For example,  someone can create a webpage dedicated to marginalized, peripheral villages inhabited by Roma people, who are in need of better housing conditions, jobs, education for children, a stable source of electricity, running drinkable water and so on. A considerably numerous group of empathy-led people could take everything in their own hands and alternately go to the village to teach the children who do not have access to school.They could also gather second-hand things and donate them to the people in the village and make a campaign to raise money in order to improve the living conditions of the village inhabitants. Last, but not least, a pressure group can be formed to force the local authorities to deal with the electricity and water problems. This is just one possible example, but there are hundreds, if not thousands of such cases in Romania, from poor children, orphans, lonely and sick elders, abandoned animals to mistreated wildlife and so on. I want to believe that we can act on our empathy and transform it into rational compassion for the better of the country. But what Romania needs most is ‘acting’ and people who would be willing to do something. Unfortunately, most people sit and discuss the corruption and the miserable state of the country. Stop complaining, start doing Romania! Life is not going to give you lemons for your lemonade, you have to grab them for yourselves!

11 thoughts on “A small step for a big change: Rational compassion

  1. “While there is no common definition or shared understanding of human nature, I believe that empathy is a prevalent characteristic of human beings.”
    ~ I agree with your above statement that empathy forms part of our shared humanity. It’s our greatest strength for collaboration, unity, and peace among our species.
    ~ For this reason, I also believe that our greatest strength is used against us by those who seek to dominate our world. Wherever we live on Planet Earth, the dominant individuals among us have succeeded in dividing us by creating differences among us. In other words, we are taught that some humans are lesser beings than others. In this way, we learn to fear, hate, and kill other human beings because they are different from us and, therefore, do not deserve our empathy or “rational compassion.”
    ~ To bring about change, as you rightly recommend, we must “[f]irst of all, the most useful thing would be for each of us to change the perception we have of animals and people…”

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  2. This is a lovely entry. Compassion is a subject I’ve been reflecting on for a while now (both on a personal level regarding some problems with others I know) and about the world in general (i.e., a lack of compassion).

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    • I am glad you enjoyed reading it and found a bit of your own reflections in it. I do think that we should all analyze ourselves and strive towards letting compassion spring free from within.

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  3. Beautiful post; I admire the depths of your compassion! You offered so many empowering solutions to the issues you see around you and that’s incredible. I’m inspired; I want to look for more ways to solve the problems I see in my own neck of the woods. Thanks! Tam

    Liked by 1 person

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