Compassion and Judgment
A good colleague writes in response to my posting about compassion for Dzhokar Tsarnaev:
I'll think about this Tom. My wife, who is a criminal defense attorney, often remarks of mass murderers who then take their own lives, "why didn't they just commit suicide first?" Was Bonhoeffer lacking in compassion (or less happy) for attempting to assassinate Hitler? And if we feel compassion for whoever is in front of us, doesn't that rob the perpetrator of the opportunity to repent his misdeeds and then receive pardon from his victim -- since the perpetrator is already receiving the victim's compassion? I don't think I'm enlightened enough to answer these questions.
Compassion is an emotion. In any particular circumstance, people either feel it, or they don't. Those that develop it as a habit of the heart feel it more easily, and more independently than their more rational sense of judgment.
Bonhoffer's decision to conspire to kill Hitler was an act of his judgment.
Finally, my emotional response to another is just that: my emotional response. It doesn't change anything, except me. Another person wrote that they feared that the compassion of others gives evil people peace.
We are afraid that our emotional response of compassion will result in an injustice somewhere. I have worried about this. The form that worry would take would be as second thoughts. I feel it now. I see the pictures of this 19 year old kid and I feel for him. Emotional response. Then I remind myself that he built an anti-personnel weapon and put it in a public place for the specific purpose of killing and maiming people. Second thought.
My emotional response is true, in that I really do feel it.
My second thoughts are true, at least by all I now know, (and will be weighed and measured by a court sometime).
Tsarnaev and Hitler are extreme cases. In my daily life, I find it makes me a happier and healthier person to avoid treating the people I meet as potential terrorists or war criminals. It makes me happier and healthier to not worry about the emotional response of compassion that, on occasion, flows out of me toward the person in front of me. My second thoughts of judgment will come soon enough.
I have come to see a freer flow of compassion as being a liberal spirit at work within me.