It seems to me, compassion and empathy are at least as important factors as intelligence and wisdom, in the ascension of Man to the place we are now, in technology, philosophy and our understanding of the universe. These under appreciated and overlooked attributes of humanity appear to be waning in the world today. Compassion and empathy have served us well through the ages. Throughout history, wars have come and gone, civilizations have risen and fallen, all based on their innate compassion and empathy, these two intimately and uniquely human attributes have waxed and waned, but never to the point they seem to be declining today. Compassion allows us to benefit each other and empathy create in us a sense of other, without either, the human condition must be one of violence, famine and want.
Neanderthals ruled Europe for over one hundred thousand years until they were supplanted by our ancestors. Consider how long one hundred thousand years is, all of recorded human history is a mere three thousand years, that is only three one hundredths of the time Neanderthals lived. Many scientists believe, that it was the domestication of dogs, that gave our ancestors the advantage to replace Neanderthals. Consider the attributes it would take to domesticate a wolf into a dog. One would have to have compassion for the puppy who’s pack you just killed, so you take that orphaned wolf in. It would take empathy to care for it and give it some of your hard earned food. All this must happen before there is any payback in the form of hunting advantage from the domesticated wolf. Therefore, compassion and empathy allowed modern man to replace Neanderthal man.
Most great civilizations all have one thing in common. At their start they were birthed out of compassion and empathy. The Roman Republic was founded out of empathy for all the citizens not just the powerful, Ancient China had the Sage Kings, ancient Greece on the equality of citizens and the US was founded on the liberty of the individual, which is to say compassion for the person. They grew in power and might until they lost their compassion and empathy, then in their decadence they fell in calamity, that was all too predictable in their lack of compassion and empathy. Civilization requires as a prerequisite compassion and empathy, once lost that civilization falls back into the sea of barbarity.
Even the term barbarism connotes a lack of empathy and compassion. A barbarian lacks compassion, a savage lacks empathy, while a civilized man has both. To be civil is to have empathy for another and to treat him or her as such. To be humane is to have compassion. The term human itself denotes compassion and empathy. No one would say the lack of either makes one human. To have humanity is to have compassion, to have empathy is to be human. One can be a genius, but if that person lacks compassion and empathy, no matter how smart they are, their industry will come to naught. A society is no different, no matter how smart, rich, or blessed with natural resources it is, that society will be violent, impoverished and despotic, that lacks compassion and empathy. Clearly, empathy and compassion are more important to the advancement of civilization than industry, intelligence, science or wealth.
All true religions teach as their highest goods, compassion and empathy, that is the basis for religion. Those who are atheists who claim that they have compassion and empathy outside religion, are fooling themselves. Were it not for religion, teaching compassion and empathy, there would be no foundation upon which they could learn doctrinal compassion. If there were no religion, systematic empathy would be unknown. Everyone has some compassion and empathy, except for psychopaths and sociopaths, but it is in religion that a system is created whereby compassion and empathy can be doctrinally established. Those who claim to be above mere religion, are indebted to it for the civilization they live in, even as they decry it, and have no compassion for it and no empathy for the adherents.
Poverty for a society comes from a lack of compassion and empathy. A market society is based as much on compassion and empathy as it is the profit motive. A market is an excellent system for a society to become wealthy, but that system needs certain foundations, one of the most important is compassion and empathy. How can someone discover a new business idea if one lacks empathy? If someone cannot put themselves in another’s shoes, then it becomes impossible to imagine what someone else needs, and meeting a need is the basis for wealth in a market system. Those business owners who lack compassion will ever be searching for employees, they will lament the lack of available good employees, yet will push away anyone who works for them, because no one will work long for someone who treats them as fodder. How can a business owner get customers who lacks empathy and compassion? Customers will quickly learn of a firm that rips off their customers and that firm will soon have no customers to rip off. Compassion and empathy are critical in a market system for it to function.
We must guard against false compassion and misplaced empathy however. They are the paths to ruin. Those who lack compassion will use our empathy and compassion against us, by tricking us to have empathy and compassion for fiends, and to act on compassion by empowering demons to act on our behalf, this can only result in monsters gaining power over us. That is how socialism gets started and why socialist countries quickly loose compassion and empathy. Once we are ruled by uncaring egoists their lack of compassion and empathy taints us. As we start to feel the pinch of hunger in our stomachs, the sting of tyranny over us and the hopelessness that despotism begets, we loose compassion and empathy, narrowing our focus for those who deserve our empathy and compassion, to an ever smaller and smaller group, until we have no compassion or empathy whatsoever. Once that happens poverty becomes rife, violence is endemic and hopelessness fills the land.
Moral relativism is all about a lack of compassion and empathy, those who say all cultures are equal, are peddling poison. What makes a culture great and what makes a culture evil is it’s empathy for people and it’s compassion for the downtrodden. Those cultures that lack empathy even for the least powerful are by definition evil and those that only have compassion for certain groups are villainous. They are not equal to a culture that has compassion, they are not the peers of a culture that has empathy for everyone. Love they neighbor as you love thyself. Moral relativism is an example of misplaced compassion and deranged empathy.
Today the lack of compassion and empathy is alarming. A recent poll showed that up to a third of Americans would not protect a Jew from the Nazis! One third of our fellows would turn in a Jew to go to the gas chambers knowing full well that is what would happen! Abortion is a case of misplaced compassion, it allows a great evil to be done in the name of compassion. Genocide is televised but people have become so calloused we could care less. Christians are returned to the Middle East where they will be slaughtered because of a lack of compassion and empathy. Yet we are excoriated if we lack empathy for those who would subjugate us, and return us to barbarism, by those very people who have no compassion for an unborn child, Christians facing certain death, a little girl being raped daily or the masses of people living under despots.
A story has been told of a rich man who once stepped over the leper Lazarus every day, when the rich man died, his lack of compassion and empathy caught up with him. The rich man looked up from his burning abode, and seeing the former leper relaxing in heaven, he begged God to have the leper dip one finger in water, so he could sip of it. God said no, the gulf was too great. The once rich man begged God to send the leper to his brothers to warn them. God replied, if his brothers had ignored all the prophets and wise men, they would ignore a leper as well… the rich man and his brothers had been taught of compassion and empathy but had ignored the teachings. Today we are no different than that rich man in our lack of compassion and empathy. Since civilization requires, as a prerequisite, compassion and empathy, the lack of can only result in the fall of civilization… no matter how smart the people are, how wealthy the society, how lofty their philosophy or how arrogant the people.