In the 1990s, our Mother General Helen McLaughlin RSCJ wrote in her letter to the Society about “couch compassion.” It is a kind of compassion that we experience while sitting comfortably in front of the TV in warm slippers and cry over the fate of the world, but it does not touch us deeply and does not reach our hearts. When we change the channel it goes away.
The phenomenon that I observe today is somewhat similar, but it seems to me much more dangerous. I called it “event compassion”. It is similar to couch compassion, because it is also driven by media, playing on our emotions. However, when it takes place in the internet age, it begins to have a new look.
How do you recognise the symptoms of event compassion? Here are some steps.
Anger and frustration arise in you, the focus is on looking for those guilty. You get caught up in the basic media manipulation in which the message is prepared in a way to present the victim and perpetrator (sometimes a person, sometimes an institution, and sometimes the whole society). What’s more, in the same case there may be an extremely different media message depending on the media option. The goal, however, is the same – gain your interest and arouse extreme emotions.
Conviction of your own righteousness
You give unequivocal judgements. You are convinced of being right and knowing the only truth. You look one-sidedly and demand that everyone thinks like you. In an extreme situation, you feel ill will towards those who think differently and insult them on online forums. You fight for the guilty to be punished and you have no space for mercy. You also do not notice the good that’s happening because you focus on what’s wrong.
Multiplication of events
You get together in groups that support an idea. You join an event on FB, change your profile photo, go to a demonstration. However, you do not fight for a cause that is really important to you, but you jump from one action to another depending on what is currently popular. You have a sense of making a difference because you join a large group of people who think similarly, but you really only help the media to promote clicks on new articles. Tipically you forget about the case when the media goes silent. Then you are ready to fight for another one.
How can you cure event compassion? Here are some ideas.
Leave it to Jesus
If any matter moves your heart, do not speak publicly about it. Focus on prayer, sharing your feelings only with your loved ones. Try to empathise with the victim, do not deal with the aggressor at all. Leave Jesus to save the world and take care of justice. Do not be provoked by online discussions.
See good and forgive
Take care to see good even in a very difficult situation. Thank God for it. If you can do something to develop it, do it (preferably without publicity). If not, continue to pray for this intention. Ask for conversion for the perpetrators, but above all for the transformation of your heart and the gift of forgiveness.
Reach out to people
See if by any chance, while fighting for justice in the world, you have not neglected the people you have around you. Maybe your neighbour needs help, a colleague from work or someone from your family. Mercy in practice consists of very simple everyday gestures, not great events. Get together friends from your parish or community and do something together for the local people instead of looking for allies on the internet. Follow Jesus, who was always interested in the person beside him, as if he did not care about the Roman occupation.
Make your reality more objective
Do not believe everything written on your favourite website or said in your favourite TV station. Be discerning and get to the facts. Read something in the newspaper you don’t like, see the event from a different angle. Only then can you try to judge the situation, but always with humility and awareness that you do not know the whole truth.