What Does It Mean to Be A People of Compassion? Wrestling with what we’re feeling and what we’re prepared to do
Editor Albany UU | Jun 05, 2020

To our parents and caretakers, I know that many of you are wrestling with helping your children understand our current local and national events. No doubt you’re seeing many resources on social media, but if you’re looking for a curated list of resources for parenting as Unitarian Universalist in these times, check out the Support for Families page of our website. There you’ll find weekly suggestions for reading and viewing for children, youth and families from our Inclusivity Team. This week I’ve included a message from the religious educator of the our UU sibling congregation in Minneapolis on explaining recent events to children.  

To all of us adults, a message from our Soul Matters Partners on Compassion to help us wrestle with ongoing events – on the theme of compassion. 

It might seem like compassion one of our easier monthly themes. After all, compassion sounds…well, nice. It conjures up a bunch of warm feelings. Images come to mind of people telling each other they are keeping them in their thoughts. It would seem to be all about emotional connection and empathetic feeling.

But then along comes a quote like this:

“Compassion hurts. When you feel connected to everything, you also feel responsible for everything. And you cannot turn away. Your destiny is bound with the destinies of others.”    -Andrew Boyd

Or this:

“True compassion is to engage in the suffering of others.” 

– The Charter for Compassion 

Both are reminders that compassion is not just a matter of niceness and thoughtful feelings. It’s a deeper type of feeling that drives us to action.

Indeed, that may be compassion’s defining characteristic; it is distinguished by doing. To feel the pain of another, well, the word “empathy” has that covered. But compassion takes it a step further. Compassion calls us to do something about that pain.     

In other words, compassion calls us to change things! It’s not just about comforting others; it’s about our comfort getting disturbed. It’s about connecting with another’s pain and struggle so deeply that we can’t rest until they rest. When we feel compassion – real compassion – we don’t just understand another’s pain, we want it to stop. And then we do what’s needed to make it stop.

It makes one wonder: Maybe the true test of compassion is justice.

And if that’s close to the mark, then maybe compassion’s question for us this month isn’t what we thought it was. Instead of asking us, “Are you able to feel?” maybe it’s asking, “What are you prepared to do?


Wrestle with Your Nicenes

There’s wide agreement that compassion plays a role in fighting racial injustice and dismantling white supremacy, but it’s also true that there’s nothing simple about that relationship between compassion and racial justice. One everyday example of this is the way niceness is used to mask, perpetuate and even defend one’s unacknowledged racism. For writer and anti-racism coach, Robin diAngelo, one small but important step in dismantling white supremacy is getting clear about the many ways we conflate and confuse niceness with compassion. So as your exercise this month, spend some time with diAngelo’s article and use it to offer yourself some challenge and compassion as you bring awareness to your own habits of “problematic niceness.”

White People Assume Niceness Is The Answer To Racial Inequality. It’s Not, by Robin diAngelo


Dig Deeper: At the recent MidAmerica Regional Assembly, Taquiena Boston, Special Advisor the UUA President on Equity, Inclusion, and Change, offered a number of questions to help support decentering work during Covid-19. Here are two for you to spend some time with: 

  • Who or what are you holding in your heart at this moment? 
  • What inequities have become more visible to you as a result of COVID-19? 

Yours in faith,

Leah Purcell

Director of Religious Education and Family Ministry