On Political Compassion

Excerpt taken from Compassion; Loving our neighbor in an age of Globalization (2009), written by Maureen O’Connell (Orbis Books, p. 194-196)

globalcompassion1Loving our suffering neighbor in an age of globalization entails the ability to perceive self-critically both ourselves and our connections as the causes of others’ suffering. (…) Several values wreak emotional havoc on first-world persons and hinder us in responding to others in need on the road to Jericho. For example, individualism isolates us from others, self-sufficiency rejects vulnerability, consumerism creates an anxious insatiability, competitiveness pits social ‘winners’ against ‘losers’, and fear perpetuates a defensive posture toward the world. (…)

The reflexivity of political compassion gives privileged persons the courage to turn and face those who are less privileged in order to perceive the unearned or unfairly distributed resources we have at our disposal. (…) By sparking this critical self-awareness, political compassion empowers us to interrogate the dangerous values that stem from and reinforce the oppressive dynamics of privilege. But it also offers counter values that reinforce a more authentic self-understanding and animate a more socially responsible engagement in the world. These values can be of real use in strategies that continue to be articulated by those with privilege. For example, suffering with persons with this kind of reflexivity gives us the courage to embrace the inherent vulnerability that all human beings share, and it awakensglobalcompassion2 a deeper concern for those who experience it more acutely than others. It cultivates the value of deep relationality with others that motivates us to embrace rather than avoid the dangers and mysteries of difference. It values the messiness and beauty of human embodiment so that we risk asking people how they actually experience different strategies of development – physically and emotionally – and not just safely seek perspective of other privileged persons. (…)

Political compassion privileges the perspective of suffering persons or the moral authority of their experiences. Therefore, it empowers those who travel down to Jericho without excessive privileges to identify the causal relationship between the ease of our passage and the difficulties in their journey. This kind of compassion gives unjustly waylaid travelers the ability to name their experiences of exclusion, or of living as persons of color in a world controlled by a colorblind elite, or of acquiescing power and authority to outsiders, or of being dissatisfied with privileged person’s notions of what it means to flourish. The ability to name the cause or source of their suffering is an important step in resisting it.




(*) Orange quotes are taken from ‘Who is My Neighbor? Compassion in the Age of Globalization’ by David G. Addiss (2016).


This entry was posted in Being human, Relationality, Vulnerability and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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