Thoughts on compassion: a crying lady, a podcast and the brain

As I was walking back from work to my apartment the other night, I passed by a young lady talking on her phone and crying . I couldn’t understand what she was saying (my Mandarin is not good enough), but I felt sad for her and said a little prayer — that she’d be healed of whatever hurt she has in her heart right now.

 That wanting to pray for this crying stranger came so spontaneously. And it reminded me of the time I tried to become a nun and had evening prayers with the Sisters. Every night we would gather at the chapel, pick up a breviary and pray together. There was always time for prayer requests, and at least one of the sisters would always, without fail, mention praying for those who were sick, at home or in the hospital, those who were traveling, and those who were heartbroken….

Why pray for strangers? (I think even an atheist has some way of expressing their hopes that somebody in pain can be healed of that pain.) 

Every time I read or hear something about how the brain works in different people and affects their perception, behavior and just about everything in their lives, I cannot help feeling sorry for human beings who are judged as sick or evil. 

Everyone of us has a story to tell; and everything we are or have become is a product of not only what we have been through in our lifetime, but also of what our brains are like. I honestly believe that if we truly know a person — not only what he is, but more importantly, how he became what he is, there is no way we can ever feel anger for the person, no matter how “bad” he is. We will only have compassion for such a person. 

I am not saying we can excuse every criminal act and simply set the perpretator free. But fully understanding a person is a reason to help a fellow human being become better out of pity, out of compassion. Rehabilitation, not death. Perhaps this costs a huge amount of resources that, one can argue, are better spent on other endeavors; but if we truly care about the human race, I think it is the right thing to do. 

In one of my previous posts, I wrote about the brain and compassion. I think I am repeating myself, but so be it. I am reminded of this topic after listening to a podcast of the Australian Broadcasting Corportion Radio National called “All in the Mind.” The topic was prosopagnosia or face blindness. 

This was an eye-opener for me because I was more often than not, sensitive when it came to not being recognized by people I had a meaningful conversation with. I was almost always offended whenever someone I had a good conversation with, especially more than a couple of times, all of a sudden couldn’t recognize me when I run into them again after just a few days. I have always taken pride in being able to remember people’s faces and names, and certain things they tell me about themselves. It’s a skill I consciously studied and learned after reading about how people like it when you remember their names. So, I tended to not like those who didn’t remember me. 

Learning about prosopagnosia, however, made me realize, yet again, how self-absorbed I still am even after years of trying to be otherwise. I am not saying that I now consider everyone who cannot remember me as having this condition because there may be those who are really pretending not to remember me for whatever reason. I should not react negatively if people don’t remember me because whatever reason is behind it, if I get to the bottom of it, I would most likely understand and forgive them. 

This may seem easier said than done. (I’m having one of those I’m-feeling-very-kind-today days, so I’m not even annoyed when my friend didn’t show up after telling me yesterday he’d show me a funny clip of Bradley Cooper.) But it can be done. We can try to be less self-absorbed and understand why certain people in our lives are the way they are, and if we honestly believe they need to change and they are capable of changing for the better, then we should help them. Who knows they may be able to help us, too. 

Have you ever prayed for a stranger? Was it easy? 

Have you ever prayed (or sincerely wished) for someone you don’t like to have a peaceful/wonderful/blessed life? If yes, was it easy? If no, would you? Can you? 🙂 


My weekends start on Thursday evenings, and I’ll be flying home soon! Have a lovely weekend!

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