Saturday, May 10, 2008

Because It's Not a Cause

For the past ten or twelve hours, I've been juxtaposing the definition of "compassion" one of my students used as an essay topic and the words, "You're not helping your cause" addressed to me by a blogger.

First, let me say, if you want to generate thoughts you can really gnaw on, try merging two ideas from completely different perspectives and contexts and have at it. It's the kind of creative synthesis poets and artists love. It's like scrap booking but with thoughts.

So a little about the original context of the ideas: my student elaborated on the word "compassion" for an essay using the "definition" rhetorical pattern. She explained that truly compassionate people don't look for rewards. They "do" because they understand and love people.

The blogger was commenting how my references to hate groups (which are, incidentally, grounded in research and labels from other groups and organizations and are not my own) didn't help "my cause." I suppose he/she meant I was detracting from the argument of the "side" he/she presumes I am on. This is interesting in itself, because I don't think of myself as being on a "side." My refusal to take "sides" is mixed in with what I gleaned from merging all this "stuff" last night. I suspect this is why I often wake up tired. My brain doesn't seem to respect the need for sleep.

So here's my own thesis: Causes are often superficial reasons for not-so-compassionate people to have something to do. Furthermore, truly compassionate people do expect to get something in return for their efforts: they expect to get the kind of world in which they wish to live. I don't work for causes, and I'm selfish. I want what I want, and that's to live in a peaceful world filled with beauty: a variety of people, nurtured nature, and art.

Don't get me wrong. Supporting a "cause" can work. Remember those little rice boxes you or your kids came home with for the purpose of collecting change to alleviate hunger? That's a cause. It's a good one. It helps kids learn the value of giving....sometimes. But too often, these "causes" just become competitions. Who can fill up the box the most and the fastest? Adults are no different. Who can give the most money and have the most pictures taken at ribbon cuttings?
You see these people all the time--politicians grinning over their latest good work that happens to enhance their public image as "the good guy." Too many of them care more about the image than anything else. The "cause" is just a vehicle for political motives. "Vote for me! I kiss babies!" You know, that kind of thing.

I've seen younger people take on causes as well not because they are particularly compassionate but because they are missing something. Causes become substitutes for having to make real-life decisions like, "What do I want to do when I grow up?" Jump on the "cause" bandwagon, and you have instant meaning to life. Or you might get the kind of family feeling you never had before. It could be saving the world or following the remains of The Grateful Dead, for all they care. They just need an identity and a group.

Please don't get me wrong. Causes can yield positive results and not everyone who "works for a cause" has such shallow motives. And young people who join causes out of need aren't bad people--they are just, well, needy. But I don't identify with such "causes" because.....I'm weird? I don't like the kind of unthinking "group behavior" that often erupts in cause-driven groups? I don't relate to people who are purely cause-driven? I already have an identity and a family and values? I guess it's all of these things.

People who join causes are presumed to be selfless, compassionate people. Well, I'm not that either. As I said before, I want what I want. When I get what I want, I'm happier. Fortunately, so are other people because my happiness entails their happiness and peace for all. I feel terrible when hatred and unbridled, counter-productive anger run amok. It's scary and uncomfortable.

People, animals and the world suffering under destructive forces makes me sad. I don't want to live in a world like this, and I don't want my children having to. If I don't help alleviate these problems, I feel like a lazy hypocrite who is not being true to self and family. So I do what I can do when I can do it. I can't over-do it, or I lose the very things I am fighting for. I have to pace myself.

I don't mind annoying people to get what I want if I think it will lead to positive change. I also don't mind telling people if I think they are wrong or they are doing something counter-productive. But I don't do it because I'm on a "cause" bandwagon. And I don't do it from selflessness. Yes, I am compassionate, but I do expect something in return---not political or social popularity or riches or fame but at least the knowledge I've tried to get what I want and what others want: the ability to work and live in an environment harassment and suffering-free.

It's never going to happen, of course. Life isn't like that. But most of us, I think, can feel better when at least 80% of the time we are left alone to live our lives the way we want to. I believe in this country we call that "freedom."

So, God Bless America.

"He" better because I'm going to keep doing what I'm doing, which is bound to irritate many along the way.
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