Sunday, February 17, 2008


Om Mani Padme Hum – Buddhist Compassion Mantra

My mother first taught me about compassion. She didn’t say much about it, but she did it, like when she saw an older lady walking on the street and offered her a ride (things were different back then). She winced when she saw prisoners on a chain gang, telling me that it hurt her to see people chained up like that, regardless of why they ended up there. That didn’t stop her from hammering a child predator when she was on a jury, though.

I learned compassion from being brought up Catholic. I didn’t realize it at the time, but it dawned on me when I was in social work graduate school and noticed there sure were a lot of Catholic and Jewish women there. Both religions teach social justice and the duty we all have to each other. Of course, I am NOT saying other religions don’t, it is just really pounded into our heads. Once one of my kids told me that we needed to feed the poor. “OK”, I said. “Where do you think the poor are?” He responded that he didn’t know, but we needed to find them and feed them, good little Catholic boy that he is.

I’ve learned compassion from my clients, especially from them. In my job working with victims and their families, a murder victim’s brother reminded me of it a while back. While on a break during the trial, the brother asked me if the defendant’s family “got somebody like me” to help them. I was stunned - what amazing selfless compassion. His sister was dead, killed by the defendant – and he was concerned because the defendant’s family was also suffering and they needed someone to help guide and support them through the trial.

That simple and beautiful act of compassion by the victim’s brother is truly one of the pinnacle moments I’ll always remember. I would even say it was a “magic moment.” It was one of those times when the world stops spinning for half a second and you realize you just experienced something absolutely remarkable.

I remember witnessing an act of compassion by a prosecutor I admire. The dazed-looking elderly parents of a capital murder defendant wondered into the office seeking information. Who knows how many places they’d been? Their daughter had been charged with murdering her small child. Rather than just dismissing them, this prosecutor brought them into her office and gave them some basic information about the case and told them what to expect as far as the process of how criminal cases proceed. I asked her about it afterwards. She said she felt sorry for them and she was afraid they’d just keep getting bounced around. She was so nice to them and showed them a little practical compassion when they so needed it.

Since we deal with crisis and trauma all the time, sometimes people ask how my co-workers and me how we can do our jobs. I guess I don’t look at it like that. I think of those moments – like with the brother and my co-worker – that make me awed and honored to be a part of all of this.

I’ve learned that compassion isn’t weakness. It isn’t living on the surface, thinking everyone is “nice.” Compassion is hard sometimes because it requires us to look outside ourselves and consider the suffering of others, even if they have done awful things. It requires strength and the ability to face extremely difficult situations. The surprising thing is, ultimately, compassion leads us to contentment, peace, understanding and resolution.


Anonymous said...


Moose said...

Compassion is the strongest quality I admire and I give thanks to my grandparents who instilled it in me.

I like your blog so far... can't wait to read more.

CJ Social Worker said...

Thanks. Very nice of you to drop by.

Glad your have wonderful grandparents like that