Thursday, June 2, 2011

Practicing compassion with a vengeance.

Would you consider yourself a compassionate person?

If so, does that include a capacity for forgiveness in every circumstance?

Remember when you saw that homeless guy standing in front of Safeway on that cold, winter night? And you went inside and bought him some soup and a sandwich, feeling pretty darn good about yourself? You couldn't wait to perform your compassionate deed, and as you walked out into the freezing night and handed him the steaming Styrofoam bowl, you anticipated a "God bless you, brother," or a "You're too kind," or a "Thanks," at the bare minimum.

But he said nothing. He grabbed your token of warmth and goodwill, turned and walked away.

Did you forgive his ungrateful behavior, chalking it up to extreme hardship or possible mental illness, or did you ponder whether or not to perform such a task in the future?

When that woman at work received a cash award at that big meeting for excelling on that big project and you knew you actually earned and deserved the money and accolades, did you bristle at her unwillingness to not only acknowledge your contribution, but not even slip you a small gratuity from her winnings?

Or did you empathize with her and write it off as being caught up in the moment?

In each situation, you eventually resolved to relegate the event to the scrap heap of minor irritations and move forward.

But what about when you didn't move forward?

A month ago, when Navy SEAL Team Six burst into Osama Bin Laden's Pakistani McMansion and aerated his chest and forehead with government-issued yard tools, a vast majority of the Earth exhaled deeply at the news of his demise, and in short order, continued living life.

A smaller, yet substantial number, celebrated in the streets with vigor normally reserved for Stanley Cups, Justin Bieber tickets or the best sandwich they'd ever eaten. Were they reveling in the discovery of a booty of intelligence data and the nerve center of Al Qaida?

Or ultimately, were they scratching that primal itch that can only be vanquished through nasty, frosty, bloodthirsty revenge?

You decide. Revenge is exacted throughout our culture, both legally and otherwise. It pervades the worlds of criminal law, athletics, even our schoolyards. And I'm sure I'm not above a little nibble of vengeful behavior from time to time.

Driving among faceless automobile operators offers the perfect conditions for exacting revenge. When someone cuts me off, my life's purpose becomes pulling even with the driver, glaring across like the toughest guy I can think of (probably Keanu Reeves) and darting in front of the offender for a payback cut-off.

Sometimes the vengeance derails itself at the sight of the elderly driver's silver hair and calcium-challenged shoulder slouch.

If someone occupies my favorite elliptical trainer at the gym, I surgically execute revenge by mounting an inferior machine and stepping way, way faster than they are...while staring at them. How intimidating is that?

Oh, and try this one. When you're eyeballing that last awesome slice of cheeseburger pizza at Whole Foods, and then some jerk snags it right before you, just spit a teensy bit on the back of his neck. Just lean forward like a tom turkey and make the "p" sound right behind his head. He'll never know and you'll achieve a nice peace of mind as you walk away with your slice of asparagus and feta pie.

Unfortunately, the lust for revenge seems as ingrained in us as...well...lust. And tomorrow, I'm challenging myself to be a better person, to remember that we're all woven together with invisible threads of compassion. People, if those threads unravel, we're no better than animals.

But if I catch my daughter leaving only one Oreo Double Stuff in the bag again, I'm going to...

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