Can a mother forget the baby at her breast
and have no compassion on the child she has borne?
Though she may forget,
I will not forget you!
See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands;
your walls are ever before me.
Words of Hope
Compassion allows us to see the other individual as God sees them. Scientists who research brain development have learned that there is a deep and more primitive portion of our brain which responds to other individuals who differ from us. It’s like a “friend or foe” switch which rapidly signals difference as possible danger. If you resemble me in a basic way, you may be a member of my family or tribe and of no danger; if you differ, there may be a danger.
This primitive brain reflex is seen in many animals and may have helped as a survival instinct. Gender, body size, skin or hair color are some of the different signals. This portion of the mammalian brain differs from the cerebral cortex where we think and make our judgments primarily in its rapidity to assess the observed difference and trigger a reaction. It is capable of alerting us to the difference as “possible danger” before our slower cerebral cortex thinks about the matter and makes our judgment.
This basic brain organization allows for rapid response in danger, but it increases the negative effect of social prejudice which is taught to everyone. Now, how does that impact the statement: “compassion allows us to see others as God sees them”? When we act in compassion to help or encourage someone who is suffering, we enter into their distress with them.
This behavior which originates in our cerebral cortex may be a little slower to trigger, but it overwhelms that more primitive “friend or foe” brain message and allows us to approach the “other one” without fear. This primitive brain trigger system is based on avoidance of fear (fear of difference which may mean danger). Our active compassion is based on love. Remember, love casts out fear.
And for the Christian, what is our source of love? God! Our cerebral cortex directs us into a loving act of compassion which manifests the divine love we share with the other individual. The great Creator God of diversity does not see differences between humans, because all humans are valued children of God. So, as you act in compassion to help someone else, you are seeing them as God sees them… loving and valuing them has God does.
Compassionate God, who has engraved each of us into the palms of your hands, may we learn from your mother’s compassion for all Creation to see others as You see them.
Donald (Luke) Day
Order of St. Francis and St. Clare