Familiarity Breeds Compassion

By

I sat in my seat like a sitting sitter. I was preparing to watch TV with my eyes. So far, so good. On the TV? The GOP Convention, live from Tampa. Ha ha. Time for scorn. I’m so scornful I even feel scorn towards uber-scornful “above-it-alls” like Jon Stewart. That’s really, really scornful. I was prepared to let my superiority drip off my nose and mingle with my potion of negativity and cynicism. They make that drink, yes. I was sure all the speeches would be dull, insincere, pandering designed to trick independents, and to inspire the brain-dead bought-ins with shallow sloganeering for the sycophantic. In short, I was prepared to judge like a majorly judging judger.

Then I saw on Facebook that a friend of mine was one of the people writing the speeches for the convention. Uh oh. I thought about this friend, her face recalled in memory. She’s smart, sincere, sensitive. She cares about the work she does. She believes in doing what’s right, has a passion for her nation. She isn’t a brainless party hack. I’ve heard her thoughtfully disagree with her party’s decisions, or representatives. She’s a nuanced thinker, a clever, kind person working to make things better in America. She’s someone who has encouraged me many times, valued my own comparably unimpressive work, bucked me up with bracing words. Also, she’s a sister in Christ.

My plan was falling apart.

Now, where I had been prepared for scorn, I was looking for the true words. I was sifting the speeches to locate, and appreciate, the hopeful, the sincere, the eloquent. Familiarity had changed something. Was I suddenly all-in with every word from the GOP Convention? No. But it was very different to experience it with a friend on the inside. My point isn’t to prod a discussion about the GOP, or their opponents (if you really want to hear scorn from me), but to talk about how familiarity can breed compassion.

Just knowing one person –one person on the inside– changed my attitude dramatically. It makes me wonder if many of the places I am prepared to heap up scorn would be impacted if I knew someone inside, going through whatever I’m making fun of, struggling with a sincere hope in a battlefield of lies and cynicism.

I am amazed at my ability to fail to notice with any real insight things outside of my own little selfish kingdom. For instance, I never notice the make, or model of cars. I just don’t care. Unless I happen to own that car, then suddenly I see them all over. They have been allowed inside the privileged world of my attention. Congratulations, car. Welcome to my vehicular awareness club.

But cars don’t have souls.

How quick I am to pour on scorn, to withhold compassion, when someone is struggling with a sin that doesn’t tempt me. But when I love someone in that fight, the whole thing changes. The abstract sin that’s so wicked becomes personal in a new way. Sympathy grows within me, scorn begins to evaporate. And not just for my friend. Suddenly, all the people struggling with this sin have become more human in my imagination, because I know and love someone in that fight. The sin doesn’t become less awful, in fact it becomes more threatening, because now it doesn’t threaten “people,” but a person. A person I love. I’m now more likely to see the similarities between the sin that drags me down and the sin that drags them down. Their challenge becomes like my challenge. I hope that doesn’t mean we all surrender those fronts. Compassion and capitulation are different. Hitler must still be defeated, because embracing him is to be swallowed by death. But perhaps it means we’ll consider fighting in a different way. I may be less likely to hoist a sign and more likely to lend a hand. Hopefully I’m less likely to scream judgement and more likely to pray and focus on the liberating Good News of Jesus for sinners. I am humbled by the newly discovered intimacy. Suddenly I’m more able to imagine how I’d like to be treated were I walking a mile in those moccasins. I see it from the inside.

I hope this growing awareness is genuinely humbling for me. I’m so proud that I’m pretty embarrassed to even admit what a jerk I can be, how quick I can be to heap up scorn and be dismissive. But maybe you need to hear about that from someone on the inside.

———————-

Featured image cropped from Zach Franzen’s illustration.


21 Comments

  1. Laura Peterson

    (Nodding in agreement.)

    Politics make me nervous, so I started to read this with my shoulders scrunched up around my ears. But, I should have known there was no need to fear. Thanks for this honesty, Sam. I have felt the truth of this in many ways.

  2. Brenda Branson

    Thank you, my favorite Sam, for writing this article about compassion and the need to really see each other through heavenly glasses, beyond the rhetoric and outside shame or shine to the person within. It really hurts to be scorned or dismissed. But it is wonderful and life-giving when someone cares enough to ask questions and get involved without judgment.

  3. Jonny

    Urg… feeling convicted.. shame too strong to shake off…
    Thank you for this post. It’s probably for the best that I read this.

  4. Breann

    Every time I notice a car of the same make and model as mine, I shall henceforth declare, “Congratulations, car. Welcome to my vehicular awareness club.”

    Fear is easy, love is hard. Thanks, Sam, for calling us to the harder task of compassion. Sometimes it’s as simple and as difficult as getting to know someone. From a person who tends to withdraw, thanks for the impetus to engage.

  5. Brenda@Coffeeteabooksandme

    One of my very dear friends is a very (as in works for the Obama campaign) liberal Jew and I am a very conservative Christian. We’ve been friends since our boys were tiny and we were neighbors. Our kids are all in their 20s now.

    When our boys were elementary school age, one of her kids was at our house and started putting down those crazy Evangelical Right Wing people. When I asked for a clarification of WHO these people were, I asked if he realized our family would fit almost every part of that definition (we are conservative organic veggie loving environment protecting tree huggers, though).

    As long as they had known us, it just didn’t sink in that the friends across the street were the very people they were scorning. All those years later, I still vote as a disgruntled Republican and they vote Democratic but we are friends.

  6. dawngreen

    As always, I love to read your words. You are clever and honest. You describe our sweet friend well! Like you, she helps me see the better things.

  7. Jess

    This is similar to the situation where you are a lot more careful about cleaning up as you cook when you realize that it’s your night to clean the kitchen after dinner. Note my thoughtful and intelligent expression.

    But I agree so very much. I am quick to judge everything from music to politics until I find out that someone I know and love is involved. Then it’s hard for me to reconcile my preconceived notions and stereotypes to what I know about the person, and suddenly I have to THINK about it (God forbid). Thanks for the reminder. Gotta keep trying to see the people behind the politics (and everything else).

  8. Jaclyn

    This very phenomenon is what makes me wary when others are laughing at an “othered” group’s expense, and makes me suspicious of myself when I am. Good to know I’m not the only other person going crazy over this sort of thing.

    PS: Sam, I recommended one of your articles here on the Rabbit Room to a pastor of mine for his “Delight in Discovery” class on Bible study. He included it in the syllabus and it made me so happy to see it there =)

    Here’s a link to the Gospel Institute site:
    http://peoriagospelinstitute.org/#/resources/videos-audio

  9. April Pickle

    Thank you, Mr. Sam. This is so thought provoking. So far, I’m thinking about my fears and insecurities, my quick forgetfulness of God’s mercy and grace in my own life, and how I hated the New England Patriots until I found out that one of their star players is a good friend’s cousin.

  10. Profile photo of S. D. Smith

    S. D. Smith

    @sdsmith

    Thank you, guys, for your kind words and thoughtful comments. I think I just blew it on this goal during the debate! Jeez. Well, I’m on a journey here, trying to figure this out. Thanks again.

  11. Lydia

    As an English Lit grad student and grad assistant I learned that I was part of the intellectual elite of the academic community, supposedly, and I learned to scorn and criticize bad writing and stupid arguments. This mindset is utterly lacking in both compassion and humility, and I’m still trying to undo the effects of those patterns of thought. Your article helped, Sam. Thank you most sincerely.

  12. Jerome

    Good stuff, Sam. I’m reminded of my easy, self-righteous condemnation of Mormons, until I had a sister-in-law and brother-in-law who are Mormon!

    It’s the perspective of relationship instead of rules.

  13. Profile photo of Jason Gray

    Jason Gray

    @jasongray

    Thanks Sam, good words here. It made me think of how for years I had such contempt for CCM-y artists, radio, and the industry, etc. Then I met them, toured with them, partnered in ministry with them, and learned how to see them better. Not long after that, I started to get emails and notes from people like me who have a lot of contempt for CCM–I had become a target! I wanted to tell them, “no, no, you don’t understand! I’m one of you!” The whole experience has been humbling and really good for me 🙂

  14. Profile photo of S. D. Smith

    S. D. Smith

    @sdsmith

    Thanks, guys. Jason, you were on my mind as this idea bounded around in my head. I was planning to mention your testimony of this (which among other of your gifts has been a great influence on me), but I blabbed too much on my own story. Thanks for the influence and friendship!

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