MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
For most people with means, adult life is a routine that is built to ensure a life that is lived within a comfort zone. For people without economic means - or individuals and groups struggling with issues of survival or discrimantion and political dominance - it's not a question of living in a comfort zone; it's a question of survival.
For years, BuzzFlash at Truthout has posted commentaries on how many people who live comfortable lives of routine - and have economic means - not only want to reduce or eliminate a social safety net for those who are disabled, can't find jobs, are paid less than survival wages, or in dire need of assistance for a variety of factors not of their choosing. In addition, BuzzFlash has noted, even the presence of homeless people or those in need of food in public spaces visually violates the "comfort zone" of those of economic means. As a result, many municipalities are passing laws that limit the feeding of people in public who have no permanent residences.
To some people, compassion comes as part of their behavioral and genetic makeup. To many others, compassion is a nurtured quality, requiring practice and tools to suppress more selfish instincts. For those in comfort zones that are built like defensive bunkers - to ward off any disruption of routine or challenge to a narrative of personal entitlement - empathy and compassion are unwanted, demanding and violations of privilege.
Of course, for those persons who give of themselves to others, who listen to the needs of others and who support assisting others, compassion and empathy can be enriching beyond words. To unshackle oneself from one's ego can lead to a liberating exhilaration, the joy of connecting to a spiritual force of life greater than oneself and one's gated community of like-minded friends and family.
In the US, the national narrative of rugged individualism poses a challenge to the counterpoint of the Elizabeth Warren notion that no one has prospered in the US on their own. Those are the economic paradigms constantly at war on the home front. Yet, the Reaganesque vision of the US remains dominant, with the faux narrative of the courageous white male of european descent "courageously" conquering the "savages” - and Ayn Randian capitalism triumphing as a national religion of sorts. There is no empathy allowed in this high school text book version of "American" history (although handily debunked by Howard Zinn and others).
In fact, given that the majority of persons on social safety net programs in the US are white, the issue of living in one's comfort zone is not confined to race; it is also a glaring class issue. After all, the upstairs/downstairs great class divide within England during the industrial revolution was basically among whites, not those of different races. (Although, the great period of British colonization was justified on the basis of "the inferiority" of the people conquered, even if it was conducted to achieve the expansion of an economic empire, the evoking of "civilizing the natives" was used just as "bringing democracy" to nations coveted for their resources is used by the US today in its propaganda.)
A river channels its course over a period of time that outlives generations of people. Rivers flow to lower ground. Therefore, to journey down one is easiest, of course, traveling with the current. Such it is with those who build a fortress against caring for others. The ritual of comfortable routine that provides a zone of protection to the lives of the more fortunate is difficult to break. It requires entering new territory of emotions and breaking with old stereotypes. It demands a value system that sees the spark of life that animates each of us forming a chain of starbursts that we share.
The rewards of compassion and empathy, however, are great. They don't need to be fixed and repaired like luxury possessions or encapsulated in privilege. They don't need a 60,000 mile Lexus checkup.
Compassion and empathy enrich the soul. They stay with you for life, filling one with emotional richness that cannot be counted in dollars.