Thursday, January 16, 2014


For various reasons, sympathy and compassion have been on my mind a lot (they keep coming up in teaching, in reading, etc). I saw something today which crystalized a thought I've been having on the subject. And, it's about baseball, of course. Specifically, it's about the A-Rod/Steroid scandal which has been dominating baseball news for the past few days/weeks/years. More specifically, it's about Derek Jeter's reaction to the scandal, and one of my favorite blogger's reactions to Jeter. It's a short posting, so here it is in full:
The Captain has made his first public comments about Alex Rodriguez. As is usually the case with Derek Jeter, he hits the right notes and it’s hard to take any issue with what he said:
“As a teammate, you’re saddened by the whole thing. The whole thing has been kind of messy . . . he’s human. I’m sure it’s a rough situation.”
I feel like, once some time has passed, Jeter’s take — that he’s “saddened” — will be felt by more people. Not for A-Rod personally, as he’s done pretty much zero to earn sympathy from anyone. But generally speaking.
In the long view, this is going to be a story of one of the most talented athletes in the history of professional sports driving his career and legacy into a ditch. And no matter how much he deserves the disapproval he’s getting, it’s sad to see that happen. It’s all the sadder when, for the past decade, he’s had an excellent example of how one can and should carry himself publicly standing just to his left on the Yankees infield.
I didn't check the comments (because I'm trying to remind myself that almost nothing good ever comes from checking the comments on a widely-read blog). But, I'll guarantee you that many of them are something like: "I don't feel sorry at all. A-Roid got what he deserved. Why feel sorry for a cheat?"

I get that. I do. A-Rod has no one to blame but himself. Of his own free will, he (allegedly!) made a conscious decision to cheat, and then to cover that up. Everything that is happening to him is the direct result of his unethical behavior.

But, I still feel bad for him.

I think people often feel that we have a choice--we can either feel bad for someone, or we can hold them accountable. Having sympathy is, in some way, being soft on, or going easy on, someone who deserves punishment. I disagree. I don't think it's an either-or situation. The whole A-Rod situation is kind of sad, but more specifically, I feel sad for, or maybe about, A-Rod. I don't hope that he somehow beats this, or that he suddenly gets off on some technicality. I hope that he gets all of the punishment that he deserves. And, when he does, I'll feel bad for him.

I'll feel bad for someone who was so full of drive and ego that he couldn't be happy with what he had. I'll feel bad for someone who's intense, overwhelming love of and commitment to baseball led to his being reviled within, and possibly shut out from, that world. It may be his own doing, but it's pathetic, in the original sense of "arousing pity."

There are times when I have to punish my kids for something (or, in the modern terminology, impose appropriate consequences for their actions). It's the right thing to do, and the kids "earned" that punishment. I don't regret doing it. But I hate it. I feel terrible for them. The fact that they deserved their consequences doesn't change how sad those consequences make them, or how bad I feel for them in their sadness.

This is a good thing. This feeling of sympathy, even for those who "deserve what they got," is a good thing. Compassion is never wasted. Compassion which makes us so soft that we let people get away with things, that's not good. But, compassion for all people, even the "guilty," is a virtue.

I don't have an exact quote or text to include right now, but this is the general sense I've been getting from my (halting) reading on Mussar, a discipline of personal, moral and spiritual improvement. Compassion--rahamim, in the Hebrew--is never bad. It's always something we should be striving for.

Actually, I do have a quote. It's from Alan Morinis' Everyday Holiness, an intro book on Mussar. "Kindness, empathy, and care arise from standing so close, feeling what the other feels."

One of the great lessons of a spiritual life is that we are all connected. All of us. The people I love, the people I hate, the people I don't even know--I am, in some way, connected to them all. When they hurt, I hurt. Not equally for all. But, ideally, at least somewhat. For all.

In the end, I'm not sure we can really choose when to be compassionate. When to feel for others who are in pain. If we're really going to be compassionate people, we have to show compassion for all. Even those who deserve exactly what they're getting.

1 comment:

Reno Diva said...

Just another reason why I miss having you around.