Banality and Compassion

Apr 9th, 2008, in Opinion, by

Jennie S. Bev says compassion is needed to overcome evil and man’s self-destructive instinct.

Banality and Compassion

Modern lifestyle is known to be quite monotonous and routine. Many people work, live, and even breathe on cruise-control auto-pilot mode. Those who follow the rules are oftentimes stamped as “good gatekeepers” and those who despise and challenge the rules are known as “rebels” and “dissidents”. Just like a driving recommendation by California State’s Department of Motor Vehicle (DMV), in which a driver must follow the current freeway traffic speed to avoid accidents regardless of the official speed limit, living has been more or less quite like that.

Living a drone-like existence might not be inevitable, but human beings are, by nature, restless creatures, who would need to find a balance between mind and heart, between righteousness and wickedness, between banality and pertinence, and between savagery and compassion. When it is time to choose, oftentimes theology comes into play. Without a balanced perspective between intellect and affection in understanding theology, which is oftentimes regarded as the “divine voices”, many people have been victimized by dogmatic elements, leaving helplessness and restlessness to widespread even deeper.

The phrase “banality of evil” was coined by Hannah Arendt in 1963 to describe the notion of ordinary people who have consciously or subconsciously accepted the premises of their state and participated actively without questioning the overlaying principles. A corrupt and self-righteous world that we live in today is a clear example of how the majority of human beings have accepted this concept without much reservation, or at least, without much contemplation on the true purposes of life.

And it is saddening that in this 21st century, in which humankind has proven the heresy by Galileo that the earth is not the centre of the universe to be true, to hear from those who are fluent and call themselves “experts” in theology approving the killings of and hating our neighbours as if they were the only ones who are entitled to the world. Good thing is, we do not need to simply be silent and accept banality as the norm to follow without any reservation. After all, human beings are both intellect and affective beings. We think and feel at the same time and we have strong empathy towards others, whoever they are.

Karen Armstrong, a prolific author in religion once wrote in The Spiral Staircase (pg. 293),

“The one and only test of a valid religious idea, doctrinal statement, spiritual experience, or devotional practice was that it must lead directly to practical compassion. If your understanding of the divine made you kinder, more empathetic, and impelled you to express this sympathy in concrete acts of loving-kindness, this was good theology. But if your notion of God made you unkind, belligerent, cruel, or self-righteous, or if it led you to kill in God’s name, it was bad theology”.

And faith, whatever ours is, was designed to unfold our childlike innocent, positive, and upbeat qualities, regardless of our age and experiences. Good theology would assist in our journey to find our inner child. A child who is accepting to goodness and believes in the goodness of others and him or herself. After all, we were designed to operate on old-fashioned manual mode: by thinking, reflecting, and contemplating, not on cruise-control automated mode.

Whether you believe in Judgement Day, Reincarnation, or Nirvana, think before saying or doing anything. Those Neuro Linguistic Programmers (NLP) might call it re-wiring our mind through thoughts. Whatever you believe, do not disappoint yourself now or later. “You only live once, if you do it right, once is enough,” said the late silver screen actress, playwright, and screenwriter siren Mae West.

Today’s clashes of things, a terminology coined by the famous and, at the same time, notorious Samuel Huntington, might not need to occur in the first place provided that we were aware of the choices we could have made as the most intelligent creature on planet earth. And it is still not too late to criticize ourselves and to make amends when it is still possible. The clashes can and will be stopped because there are no other alternatives if we are to prevail as human race without being self-destructive.

It might be hard to criticize ourselves without criticizing others, but it can be done with awareness and peaceful opened heart and mind. Any preconceived notion of anything should not be used against our future, but should be consciously constructed to channel our inner wisdom. It certainly does not require a degree in theology to practice good theology. A simple common sense would do just fine.

At last, do not preach, just do good things. Be good ambassadors of our faiths and communities. Be aware and be mindful of consequences. And whenever you are in doubt, do not choose banality. Choose compassion.

Note: Show our solidarity to victims and survivors of May 1998 Tragedy in Indonesia by signing the petition at http://www.peacefulindonesia.com/petition/.

Jennie S. Bev, San Francisco.


12 Comments on “Banality and Compassion”

  1. Koko says:

    Watch karen armstrong talk about the charter of compassion on ted.

    http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/view/id/234

  2. rima says:

    Jennie,

    Effective March 28, 2008, we should not exercise our right to freedom of expression because our opponents may (and are allowed to) become violent. For the first time in the 60 year history of UN Human Rights bodies, a fundamental human right has been limited simply because of the possible violent reaction by the enemies of human rights.

    (I have this in my blog, after reading and entry titled ‘Vote on freedom of expression marks the end of Universal Human Rights’ in the International Humanist and Ethical Union/IHEU site.)

    The demonstrations that took so many lives in May ’98 was for nothing, many sacrifices of great people around the world to ensure us of our basic right to freedom of expression is now for nothing.

    I hope compassion will win at the end, and that violence will be a thing of the past.

  3. Marisa says:

    Fine analysis, and a beautiful composition, mba Jen. As always.

    I absolutely agree to your opinion.
    Then again, what’s to disagree? Of course, compassion is the ideal option when it is opposed with banality. Takes no Dalai Lama to realize that. But how about compassion and apathy? How about compassion and ignorance? How about compassion and denial? Or compassion with cowardness?.

    Jesus spoke to a man that day: Let him who is without sin cast the first stone. What if the man still cast the stone? What would Jesus do (ahem.)? Just walk away, because Jesus is being too compassionate?.

    See, there’s this thing about intellectuals. Not in the subject of theology to be specific. Just intellectuals. Some say, there are two types of intellectuals: Those who are trained to be politicians, and those who are trained to be a soldiers.

    Politicians give you bureaucracy, maybe a few self-gratifying bullsh*t, then stability. We need them, we really do. Soldiers, they give you nothing but a reason to fight, to advance forward, and to provide a driving force. And when one can still choose, one do not really fight, one merely choose; but when one is fighting, one knows there is no other choice, no other reason, but to survive. Survival of an idea, that’s all there is to it.

    I know I’m such a big mouth to say all that stuffs. I am still inexperienced and I am sure everyone here in IM have learned more of banality and compassion more than I do. But let’s just say, what if ..you have no choice at all.

    There’s this saying in my generation btw, “You talk the talk, but do you walk the walk?”. Proof of intellectuality goes something like that. In my terms.

    Anyhow, this article is too good to be published only in blogs or even the media. You should deliver this personally to whom it may concerned in this nation. With a real, actual, and yet compassionate fight. We trust you, and everyone here, on that.

    Cheers. 😀

  4. Achmad Sudarsono says:

    Friend,

    Compassion is the sweet sound of Dangdut, winding through the night air, telling of love, loss, and goyang. As Gus Dur once said: “dangdut tidak pernah pahit.” (Dangdut has never been bitter).

  5. Jen says:

    @Koko, thanks for the link.

    @Rima, well, let’s see how it goes. Too early to say for now, but I do follow the updates. Thanks.

    @Marisa, thanks. Yup, not an “intellectual” here, just a girl in leather jacket with her lipstick and Hello Kitty toy. I’ll keep on fighting, Marisa, with pen/keyboard and other means. I’m just to shy to share those with the world. Let’s keep my offline and online lives separate.

    @Achmad, I’m so amazed at how creative you’re with your imagination. I bet the man under this pseudonym be happy, healthy, and wise. I bet you are. You live in Jalan Jaksa no more, yes?

  6. dewaratugedeanom says:

    rima said

    Effective March 28, 2008, we should not exercise our right to freedom of expression because our opponents may (and are allowed to) become violent.

    Alea iacta est, the dice are thrown. Nothing to do but wait till the next elections and see if Oranje still has cojones.

  7. Cukurungan says:

    Jennie S. Bev says compassion is needed to overcome evil and man’s self-destructive instinct.

    It is no wonder why there are so many Angels in this world as below:
    Hitler is the most compassionate man for Germany
    Slobodan Milosevic is the most compassionate man for Serb
    Ahmadinejad is the most compassionate man for Iranian
    Olmert is the most compassionate man for Jews
    Bush is the most compassionate man for American
    Osama is the most compassionate man for Arab

    Friend,

    Compassion is the sweet sound of Dangdut

    Compassion is Inul Daratista whereas Banality is Dewi Persik

  8. Rob says:

    An impassioned plea! Let’s hope people are listening!

  9. Lairedion says:

    I’m all in for compassion but towards nature, wildlife, animals, forests, trees, plants, oceans, seas, rivers etc., to cut it short, our planet.

    All this grandiloquent political correct crap talk about humans and religions needing to get along with one another seems admirable but is totally ignoring the real problem of today, the polluting and destruction of our planet. That’s what I call banality.

    It is clear humans have failed and it’s now time to pay attention to and take care of our planet because she’s desperately ill. We are the cause of it and we need to help her cure.

  10. Cukurungan says:

    All this grandiloquent political correct crap talk about humans and religions needing to get along with one another seems admirable but is totally ignoring the real problem of today, the polluting and destruction of our planet. That’s what I call banality.

    It is clear humans have failed and it’s now time to pay attention to and take care of our planet because she’s desperately ill. We are the cause of it and we need to help her cure.

    You must be one of the participants of Bali Summit of the Climate Change, in which more than 3 days discuss about how dangerous effect burning hydrocarbon to the earth but none of those participant came there by riding horse or bicycle or swim instead of they prefer to enjoy flight with Boeing or maneuvering with Hummer the fast burner hydrocarbon vehicle.

    How you can blame the old religion in which most of their teaching always encourage human to life modestly while the problem pollutions and planet destruction are mostly caused by the excessive exploitation of the natural resource in order to create bigger GDP , bigger market share and extravaganza lifestyle promoted by the latest religion namely globalization.

    A lion would only kill a dear when He is hungry but a human with a lion head would kill other 100 millions human in order to ensure that his descendant doest not need to share in hunting a dear with other human. The key issue is not in the religion but human obsession and ambition to life better than the other at whatever cost.

    Regards,
    Mutant Buddha

  11. Lairedion says:

    Hello Mas Cuk,

    You must be one of the participants of Bali Summit of the Climate Change

    No, I was too busy planning my next assault on behalf of the ALF.

    Regards,
    Eco-terrorist No. 1

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