April 25th, 2008 by Clark Humphrey

It’s been a few weeks now since the big Seeds of Compassion mega-conference.

What have we learned?

In terms of left-brain rational learning, not a whole lot that hasn’t been said repeatedly in three decades of new-age philosophy. You’re a child of the universe. Be honest. Be conscientious. Be empathetic. Be kind to people. Take care of one another, especially kids. Spread love and joy. People are more important than power or profits. War is horrible, but so is repression. Vengeance only begets more vengeance.

But from there, the lessons got more subtle.

I’ll just mention one lesson invoked several speakers in the cablecast events—the lesson that empathy is deeper and more personal than mere sympathy.

Tim Harris’s blog, Apesa’s Lament (apesmaslament.blogspot.com), has been an outspoken critic of the city’s current homelessness policy. Harris believes Mayor Nickels is doing too little to find homes for people, while doing too much to harass the homeless into invisibility.

Harris recently noted that, earlier this year, official city documents called Nickels’s policy “consistent and compassionate.” But more recent documents, issued after the Seeds of Compassion conference, bill the city’s homeless policy as “consistent and humane.”

As Harris comments, “The word ‘compassion’ implies a certain amount of connectedness and having something at stake.” Conversely, he describes the adjective “humane” as “more associated with children, animals, and other somewhat helpless creatures.”

This distinction goes beyond the homeless and beyond our own town.

Do we treat other people (even the others we want to help or love) as The capital-O Other, as some exotic-but-lesser life form? Or do we acknowledge that we ARE they, they ARE we?

Taking this approach further, we belong to the same human family with all the group-types we Seattle liberals love to bash. Wal-Mart shoppers. Red-staters. Suburbanites. Churchgoers. Condo owners. People who eat meat. People who watch television. People who don’t smoke pot.

Yes, even white straight males.

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