Is it possible?
In the shadow of this rhetoric exists a far more important question: “Can true compassion and judgment co-exist?”
My answer is no, they cannot.
After graduating high school in 1994, I spent six months volunteering for an organization called Community Service Volunteers in London, England. When I wasn’t working with the four young men with Downs Syndrome to whom I’d been assigned, I traveled as much as I could – though lack of time and money often kept me in or around the city. Subways and trains became my lifelines – they were inexpensive and could get me almost anywhere. One day shortly after arriving I saw a woman holding her baby near a subway stop, asking those who passed for change. For several seconds I stood in awe, trying to make sense of what I was seeing. I quickly decided to give her everything I had, including a half-eaten chocolate bar. It took me a long time to shake the image of her begging for money to feed her baby.
As time went on I frequently passed through this particular station on my way to other places. Time and again I would see her in the same spot asking for change, usually with her baby. I started wondering if she was choosing to remain there instead of taking other steps to better her and her child’s lives. I steadily became bitter as I noticed the same pattern with others in different places – standing in the same spot day after day, asking for money. Were they consciously choosing to live this way? If so, why? Why didn’t they want to improve themselves and live a better life? I became indignant, and resolved that none of these people would get any more handouts from me.
This morning while on my way to work I saw the same man I always see, wrapped in tattered blankets and sleeping under an awning. As I passed him I felt that pang in my heart again – the same one I felt when I first saw the woman holding her child in the London subway. Then I realized something…
Judgment and compassion are like oil and water – they just don’t mix. I can either sit in judgment of this man, telling myself he has no one to blame for his life but himself, or I can simply have compassion for him. I can’t do both. Why does it matter whether he chooses to live this way or not? If I place conditions on when and why I’m compassionate, am I ever showing true compassion? Does the former empower me and enable peace, or rob my power by making me reactive?
This realization has shown me why “hating the sin but not the sinner” is not possible. Those fond of using this trendy evangelical maxim would likely disagree – but my compassion isn’t conditioned on their agreement.