Empathy, Compassion, Generosity, Forgiveness and Revenge : Shamanistic Healing

Empathy, Compassion, Generosity, Forgiveness and Revenge

by Kathy Bonham on 10/12/13

Empathy, Compassion, Generosity, Forgiveness and Revenge

October 13, 2013


I ask myself, do all four of these qualities have to be present in order to be a completely whole human being with the possibility of breaking free of karma or going to a heavenly place?  Must their counterparts like revenge exist in us? I am not talking about yen and yang as I understand the concept and philosophy.   I am really talking about personal values and cultural values.  When I speak of culture, I am referring to the USA culture, the one that surrounds us all and is delivered to us via electronics and media and each other.  Let’s look at each word in the title separately.

Empathy comes from the Greek words em (in) and pathos (feeling) and means having an ability to share and comprehend the feelings of others.  Compassion comes from the ecclesiastical Latin word compati, to suffer with, and means to be sympathetic with and caring about the misfortunes of others.  Generous comes from Latin and means being kind and generous.  Forgiveness, so the Oxford Dictionaries on line tell us, comes from Germanic derivation and means to "stop feeling angry or resentful toward (someone) for an offense, flaw, or mistake."   Revenge means generally to inflict harm on someone for a wrong suffered by the one seeking revenge or for someone else and comes from the Latin word revindicare.  See Oxford Dictionaries on line at http://oxforddictionaries.com/us/definition/american_english/,for the above definitions and derivations. 

We in the USA live in a representative democracy, a civil society which means a "society considered as a community of citizens linked by common interests and collective activity," according the online dictionary cited above.  In order to attain this society we have established laws and government.  Our body of laws must always weigh the interests of the individual against the interests of the whole community.  It is not a society where we can say something is for the greater good unless the rights of individuals not a part of the greater good are protected.  To start with, the word good is a slippery slope.  Who determines what is good for me other than me?  A society of law in a democracy gives everyone a voice and vote and through the law it maintains a peaceful and predictable (civil) society.  There is a tremendous amount of certainty and reliability to our lives.  I am not saying that our civil society is perfect but in general  it is free of violence and it is relatively predictable.  There are always exceptions like young Black men growing up in a drug infested and gang controlled neighborhood as an example.  Whenever I hear someone say “it is for the greater good,” I cringe.

 As a member of the civil society that is a society of laws and is run by a representative government, we must be ever vigilant and not taken in by such slogans as “for the greater good. It seems to me that over my lifetime of 68 years I have seen our cultural values shift in regards to the words I have defined above.   Empathy, compassion, generosity and forgiveness were considered high values to be adopted and cultivated.  Revenge was not so considered.  In fact it was deemed to be a wrong action stemming from rage, and hate.  It more than likely would result in an illegal act that is outside the law, outside the norms of a civil society.  If you believed you or another were wronged then be vindicated, if warranted by the law through the law.   Nonetheless, as I grew up have aged I have seen our popular culture raise revenge to the level of an accepted value, a good kind of action to take.  After the Viet Nam war a whole genre of movies, and a little later on TV shows, hailed as “heroes” who were bigger than life, wantonly and “morally justified” murder the bad guys.  This genre has exploded into video games, films, videos and nearly every other form of media.  Now I think that it is expected for one aggrieved to take revenge or be branded weak and dishonorable.  I ask what happens to empathy, compassion, generousness and above all forgiveness when revenge is a competing cultural moral value?   Such an attitude inevitably undermines a civil society’s  system of laws, the very same laws that maintain peace, predictability and individual rights.  How can empathy, compassion, generosity of spirit and forgiveness exist alongside of  and together with revenge?

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