Compassion is Not a Zero-Sum Game

The other day, I found myself on the side of lacking compassion for someone else’s feelings. I publicly sneered at their desire to see justice done. I belittled their feelings, and I made a comment on their online page for all to see. My friend did the right thing and deleted my comment not long afterwards. When I saw the comment had been deleted, I felt ashamed. Thank you for saving me from a lasting record of some of my darker thoughts and feelings.

Today I read someone else’s exasperation that people cared more about X than Y, which clearly was a very important human rights situation. I often see this kind of thing expressed on online, and I refrain from engaging because I understand that the topic moves them deeply. I am not going to give someone a hard time because they feel strongly about an issue but happen to express it in a way that rubs me the wrong way.

I can care about X and still care about Y at the same time. My caring about X does not mean I am a compassionless, thoughtless, and uncaring person. My caring about X does not mean that I do not have my priorities straight. When I have expressed my values, I have experienced the cruel and demeaning words of others who are essentially telling me that there are more important values out there than the ones that I have chosen. I have been on both sides, the giver and the receiver of this kind of talk.

Our families are important. Our friends are important. Would you ask a parent to put a friend’s recent breakup before they took care of the health of the sickly newborn? Maybe. But the parent might lash out and tell you that the health of their newborn took precedence for them, as much as they might like to be there for their friend. We cannot always be there to support our family and friends. Does this mean the friend is completely and utterly irrelevant and unimportant to the parent’s scheme of things? No. It means that the parent must prioritize their duties, and their first and foremost duty is to their child.

Compassion, like love, can never be a zero-sum game. The more you demonstrate compassion, the more compassion you have to give. The same goes for love. Let’s love our causes and show compassion for others, no matter who they may be, without looking down on each other in the process. I dream of living in a world like that.


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