Familiarity Breeds Compassion


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.