Compassion: hope for a new morality

On this day in 1981 I was 18, studying for my A-levels. My MP had died. For weeks the tension in the air had been palpable. Would he choose to die? Would the government let him die? What would happen next? I remember the pause in English class as our teacher mused on the uneasy atmosphere.
I still keep a poster of Bobby Sands, taken from a lamppost outside our house. It’s not that I supported what he was doing. As I saw it, it was an unnecessary death, a terrible waste of life, a family left grieving no matter what the political story around it all was. I couldn’t understand why there was no way found to resolve matters. Weren’t governments meant to protect life? I keep the poster not because of my political views, but because it reminds me of that time in our history when there was little in the way of compassion. Desperate things happened and desperate consequences ensued. If only that had been the end of it, but it wasn’t.
These last few months have reminded me of that time, this last week more so. The uneasy air. The awful human suffering obscured by ‘digging in’ against each other. The dead ends that open up when we start talking about suffering. We seem to get nowhere. It’s wearying and if it’s wearying for me then it’s more than wearying for those who, behind their own front doors, are in shock, their grief deepened and hope trumped by what goes on outside their own front door. Of course no one has a monopoly on shock and the impact of another’s behaviour. To list off what has happened these last few months is to take a bird’s eye view of behaviours that are impacting on people at their most vulnerable human levels. It is to see that when it comes to how we damage each other it is our behaviour, not our words, that really matters.

Republican Parade in Castlederg
Haass/O’Sullivan talks
On the Runs revelations
McGurk’s Bar suspect released
Innocent Victims call on political parties to sign 10 point contract
Ballymurphy families denied review panel
La Mon families informed there will be no review
DUP release key policy commitments to victims
Controversial Maze Report released
Gerry Adams arrested
The McConville family speak out
365 Royal Prerogatives of Mercy announced and more to come when the files are found
Innocent Victims release their 10 point contract as public petition
Gerry Adams released with files being sent to the PPS

Have I missed things out or mixed up the order? I’m sure I have because the edginess coalesces events and facts into a cloud of disquiet, a blur of feelings. We have come through worse. But every time we come through turbulence we lose more of our souls to the tyranny of a past which continues to hurt us and with which we hurt each other.
There is nothing more cruel than knowing what damaged someone in the past and then using the same tactic over and over again, deepening the damage. And that’s what’s happening. By our words, our political codes, our connections to our own past, our carelessness of each others suffering, our will to resist our own defeat, we continue the dynamic of damage to one another. We refuse to look each other in the eye or to offer explanation to each other. Without that attempt at explanation we render each other invisible, worthless. There is a dearth of compassion. In the end of the day, words count for nothing. It’s behaviour that matters. Behaviours change how we feel and the realities we live with.
It’s time to get human, to find compassion. It won’t be easy. It hurts to raise the bar on your own behaviour and it hurts to be honest. It hurts to admit that we are doing what we have always done and that we are continuing to hurt each other.
No one, in any part of our society, is going to get all that they want and some will probably not get all that they need. But if we are human with each other, if we change our behaviour towards each other and find some compassion for each other, we can help each other out. We can choose a different pattern for the future, one in which we make each other human by the way behave. It’s the only hope we have. Without compassion for each other, and indeed for ourselves, the future is bleak, just more of the same.

“Compassion is the basis of morality.”
Arthur Schopenhauer