I mentioned in this morning's post that compassion (rahamim in Hebrew) has been on my mind. So, I decided to also teach a bit about it at our monthly lunch and learn today (you can always join us--look for it on Congregation Beth Am's website, always on a Thursday at noon). At the end of the (really interesting, fun) session, I shared a metaphor which seemed to resonate with people. So, I'll share it here, too.
I've heard that one of the harder tasks for baseball outfielders is learning to always take their first step out. When a ball is hit to them, it always looks, at first, like it's going to fall in front of them, so they naturally start moving in. But, the ball is actually often going over their heads, and so then they need to scramble backwards. That's why you see so many little-leaguers chasing balls which got past them; they haven't yet learned to always, reflexively take that first step out. Even if the ball is in front of them, they'll have time to adjust to that, most often. It's not perfect, but it's a good rule.
That's kind of how I feel about compassion. I know that there are times when an actual compassionate response might not be right. There are times when strict justice is needed, or self-preservation, or something else. But, so often compassion is the right response, but we aren't trained to respond that way. So, our first step is in another direction, and it's really hard to adjust back towards compassion once our fear, or righteous anger or whatever else get going.
What I want is to train myself to always react with compassion first. To have compassion be my reflex. It won't always be the right reaction, but it will more often than I might instinctively think.
As I once said, when in doubt, err on the side of compassion.