In this talk titled “Reconnecting With Compassion”, journalist Krista Tippett deconstructs the meaning of compassion through several moving stories, and proposes a new, more attainable definition for the word.
We’re here to celebrate compassion. But compassion, from my vantage point, has a problem.
As essential as it is across our traditions, as real as so many of us know it to be in particular lives, the word “compassion” is hollowed out in our culture, and it is suspect in my field of journalism.
It’s seen as a squishy kumbaya thing, or it’s seen as potentially depressing. Karen Armstrong has told what I think is an iconic story of giving a speech in Holland and, after the fact, the word “compassion” was translated as “pity.”
Now compassion, when it enters the news, too often comes in the form of feel-good feature pieces or sidebars about heroic people you could never be like or happy endings or examples of self-sacrifice that would seem to be too good to be true most of the time.
Our cultural imagination about compassion has been deadened by idealistic images. And so what I’d like to do this morning for the next few minutes is perform a linguistic resurrection.
And I hope you’ll come with me on my basic premise that words matter, that they shape the way we understand ourselves, the way we interpret the world and the way we treat others.
When this country first encountered genuine diversity in the 1960s, we adopted tolerance as the core civic virtue with which we would approach that.
Now the word “tolerance,” if you look at it in the dictionary, connotes “allowing,” “indulging” and “enduring.” In the medical context that it comes from, it is about testing the limits of thriving in an unfavorable environment.