Compassion as Opposed to Pity

One of my favourite columnists in the Isle of wight County Press is Charlotte Hofton. This week she produced this excellent piece on compassion and its “near enemy” pity in the form of a utilitarian, fix anything that’s “wrong” with people and the world, approach.

Eddie Izzard
Why Eddie’s the IW’s new darling

PREVIOUSLY something of a fan of Eddie Izzard, I am now positively devoted to him. I like the way he manages to be alternative without drawing on the tediously coarse and I like the way he’s honest about his transgender (“a complete boy plus girl”) without tipping over into luvvie habdabs.

But I admire most of all his generosity and thoughtfulness towards others.

In 2009, he completed 43 marathons in 51 days (over 1,100 miles in total) in aid of Sport Relief. In 2016, he raised £1.35 million for the same charity by running 27 marathons in 27 days.

What a guy and girl). And now he’s donating his fee for his appearance last Sunday at Shanklin Theatre to two Island charities, Layla’s Trust and the Rainbow Trust. The former supports families bereaved by a child’s death or who have disabled or terminally ill children, while the Rainbow Trust similarly supports children with a disability or special needs, together with their families. 

Eddie Izzard’s donation is the mark not just of a generous man but one who understands compassion and the sort of humanity which reaches out to the most vulnerable in terms both of physical and emotional needs. 

His gift to the Island will bring love and support within our community to families in despair or have been affected by disability, while Sport Relief’s much wider remit helps people across the world.

There is a great need for compassion. It is a quality that is inherent in the best of human beings and distinguishes us from animals who are certainly capable of showing protective care, notably where then-young are concerned, but who do so from instinct rather than moral decision. Eddie Izzard ran those thousands of miles for people he would almost certainly never meet, not from unthinking instinct but because he is a good man. And he, and people like him, make the world a better place.

This, in part, is why I have misgivings about the intention by Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg, and his wife, Priscilla Chan, to donate three billion dollars to fund a plan “to cure all diseases” by the end of the 21st century. 

I’m no scientist but I doubt this is even achievable. Just over 80 years to eradicate all disease from the face of the earth? A tall order, I’d say, even with three billion dollars to splash around. But putting that aside and assuming, albeit hypothetically, it’s possible to cure all diseases, is this actually desirable? 

Well yes, it sounds marvellous. No more cancer, no more cruel wasting diseases, no more Aids or Ebola or Alzheimer’s. Teenagers jumping for joy because the Zuckerbergs have cured acne. No more horrid collywobbles, no more inconvenient sniffles. Gosh, no more fungal infections of one’s big toenail. Yay!

But what then? Do we just go on and on living, disease-free but ever-ageing, until centuries later we’ve shrivelled into the size of a walnut and disintegrate into a tiny pile of geriatric dust?

With nobody dying from disease and the world’s population inevitably expanding at an unstoppable rate, how will there be enough food and water to go round? Have the Zuckerbergs planned for all the housing we’re going to need? 

And what about those ancient couples who are completely disease-free but having now been married now for 110 years, really can’t stand each other, a condition that worsens every day they’re forced to survive? If the way your husband chewed his food annoyed you soon after the honeymoon effect wore off, what’s it going to be like after a century of listening to it over the breakfast table? 

But above all, where’s the need for compassion? Where’s the love that puts arms around the sick and the disabled, comforting the bereaved and the disease-ridden? Where’s the need for people like Will Pooley and Pauline Cafferkey, who risked their own lives when they nursed Ebola sufferers? Where’s that unique deep, and unconditional love and gentleness that comes from caring for a sick child? 

No need for compassion in the Zuckerbergs’ great scheme, especially if they also start throwing their billions at gene therapy so every baby is born perfect, with no disabled or Down’s syndrome children to love — those children who also give to others with their Own love and humanity. 

Yes, just take the magic money pill and everything will be happy, happy, happy. I hope Eddie Izzard’s generosity gave the the Island a warm glow, Enjoy it while you may, Ours could be a cold, heartless and ultimately intolerable world by time the Zuckerbergs have done with it.

 

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