Compassion is defined as sympathy and the desire to alleviate suffering. “To be compassionate” is merely to feel something about a situation. That’s it. Understanding without action.
First, I think about the concept of salvation on the basis of faith and good works. Just as all truly valuable things on this earth, salvation isn’t free. God has not called me to be a passive recipient of eternal life. I must work with His grace to perform “good works.” Jesus commands us to do such things. In Matthew 10:8, for instance: “Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, drive out demons.” We celebrate Mass because our presence and participation each Sunday is a demonstration of our obedience and loyalty. We recite prayers to humbly ask for strength and clarity. We conduct charity because it is who we are to give to the less fortunate and ask for nothing in return. We practice our faith, literally.
Second, what good is it to be compassionate if you have nothing to personally offer to help? I’m certainly not discounting the times of emotional crisis when I just want someone to be physically present as I rant or sit in silence. But let me insist that this is a personal choice, and compassion should generally be paired with a means to give. As such, compassion necessitates resources: money, property, wisdom, etc. When we witness another’s ambitious efforts to attain personal success, why focus on the negative aspects of ego and selfishness when we may instead be encouraged by the realm of possibility that an individual’s fortunes may bring? I have an economic perspective on this too.
Third, the vogue medical adage “the art of compassion” now slightly frustrates me. How is anyone able to teach me how to be compassionate? Through scripted case scenarios? Through vague lessons on diversity and acceptance? I assume that most medical students have an above-average level of compassion developed from early exposures to the field.
Compassion alone is meaningless. As an aspiring physician, I realize that my vocation itself serves as an avenue to ensure that my compassion for others is realized every day on the job. But until that day, I try to effect meaningful change in the ways I already know how. Maybe this urge toward action is why the feeling of idleness is perhaps the most uncomfortable sensation I have ever experienced.