#IntelligentCompassion or, #WhyISkippedFebruary


I’m rewatching the television series “The West Wing.”  That statement in today’s political climate is relatively on par with “I’m treating my depression with alcohol,” but it gave me a fair bit of insight in the first episode alone, so it did help, of a sense.  First, though, a background story so that you get an idea of its affect on my thought processes.

When my mother was in her last stages of cancer a whole collection of hospice nurses were in and out of the house to help (some were a help, like the lady I’m about to mention, but most were uncomfortable and I had to work for them to help them feel better; all part of that acute politeness and nothing bad should be acknowledged attitude the Upper Midwest is so good at), and one of them came in every other day to take vitals and answer questions.  My mother was pretty much unconscious at this stage, and the nurse new my parents; it was a small town, and everyone knew everyone, particularly in specific generations.

I liked this nurse, enjoyed her visits, but she had an odd assessment of my parents.  She told my brother and I that we were lucky; we had the perfect balance of intellect (supposedly my dad) and compassion (supposedly from my mom).

Something about that never sat right with me, because it seemed to add up to the following sum:  my mother, in being compassionate, must be missing some IQ points, and my father, smarter of the two, must be lacking in compassion.

Ever since then I have looked for smart and compassionate people to look up to.  Sadly, the nurse was mostly right…especially in today’s news cycle, it seems we have to “win” by being smarter than the other side, and “how are the Dems going to get the upper hand back when they are so nice all the time,” and “empathize with the struggle of the Right and you’ll win them back, ” (there’s that word “win” again), etc.

I’m seeing a lot of intellect right now, and no wonder…compassion is portrayed as, and is perceived as, a weakness.

My questions are these:

  • What if compassion could convince of intellect?
  • What if intellect could be used to find the compassionate way to lead us all?
  • What if one or the other weren’t celebrated and instead one could only happen with the other?

Enter “The West Wing.”

The scene pictured above is in the pilot.  I won’t explain the whole thing; you can find it and watch it if you are so inclined.  In the pilot episode, the communication staff and Deputy Chief of Staff meet with Christian leadership to smooth over a snafu that occurred on a talk show between their representatives.  One side is secular government, the other side is impassioned Christianity.  The White House staff are accused of being smart and not compassionate to the needs of the Christian Right, but the Christian Right wants the apology cemented with commitments from the administration to things such as school prayer, cracking down on the accessibility of porn among kids, and discontinuing distribution of condoms in middle and high schools.

Now, I’m all for school prayer, if you could be compassionate enough to do it and not make those kids of different faiths (or atheist) uncomfortable.  I’m all for cracking down on porn accessibility for kids, but…isn’t that a smart decision we should be compassionate enough to allow parents to make?  And no condoms in schools…the smart and compassionate answer for me seems to me to make them readily available.

But there are different definitions of compassion and intellect, aren’t there?

For me, finding someone who is equal parts compassionate and intellectual has become so exceedingly rare that I only seem to find it in art…and not the kind of art you would find in the movie Snakes On The Plane.  George Saunders, on tour for his first novel Lincoln in the Bardo, mentions the importance of kindness in every interview, and he learned that lesson from a critic’s review of his short fiction that expressed Saunders was a better writer when he wrote from a point of view of “love instead of hate.”  That review was before Saunders went on special assignment for The New Yorker to do an in-depth piece on Trump supporters.  In a recent Vanity Fair interview he conveyed that he still didn’t understand why Trump supporters wanted Trump, but he understood their working class frustration.

Working class frustration isn’t always thought of as cerebral.  Maybe, though, we should use our noggins to understand that frustration, and then find a compassionate way to alleviate it.

The challenge though, is finding the smarter, kinder way to do it.

*****

February got skipped in this blog for a few different reasons: the unreliable nature of my current employment, my changing living situation, the month is short enough to sneak past me, and my mother’s memory kind of takes over the first couple weeks.  But here’s the leap back into something stable, a run-down of the art I’ve been trying to stay sane with lately:

  • Books – I finally finished Barbarian Days…sadly; what a great memoir.  I’m currently reading a book that I picked up at the San Diego Library Shop for “A Blind Date with a Book” for Valentine’s Day (the book was wrapped in plain brown paper–no, not porn again, heh–and a brief and enticing summary was applied to the wrapper), The Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obreht.  The novel is set in the former Yugoslavia and reminds me of the magic of She Unbearable Lightness of Being, without so much raw lust.  I am thoroughly enjoying my Valentine’s, still.  I am also enjoying the complete fluffiness of Jojo Moyes’s short story collection Paris For One, borrowed from the Carlsbad library, just because she is so funny and loving and light;
  • Other reading – still The New Yorker, still The New York Times;
  • Listening – a LOT of classical music, a LOT of Cassandra Wilson, a LOT of Melody Gardot…they are soothing, and, with minimal vocals, easy to write to.  I love Lorde’s new single, enjoying Sia’s work on film soundtracks lately (The Eagle Huntress and Lion, for starters), and I keep adding to my podcast stack;
  • Watching – TV – still with PBS’s Victoria (one more episode tonight), The West Wing, the second season of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Last Week Tonight, Real Time with Bill Maher, and…it’s back…BASEBALL; ⚾️
  • Movies – Pretty much anything Oscar-related, which is typical for me in February.  Yes, I watched the Oscars, and came unglued at that magical ending with my love for Moonlight.  

Here’s hoping, until April, I gain compassion and smarten up, in equal measure.  ❤🤓