Tag Archive: compassion


Practice Compassion

This is a stencil illustration of my mother that I created soon after her death in 2010. She was a person who lived a life for others. She was a person who had a deep well of forgiveness and compassion for others. On her grave stone I had inscribed “Resting here is Margaret Adele Thomas, beloved mother and unassuming princess among humanity . A soul of great beauty, compassion and self-sacrifice. She is my greatest role model in life.

When I created this work, as well as missing my mother deeply, I had been reminded of that iconic image of Che Guevera that is now commonly found on the t-shirts of non-conformists around the world (many of whom I would suggest don’t understand the idea of communism nor know much about Ché Guevera’s personal history). His image has come to represent the idea of revolutionary change in society. Those familiar with history will recognise that although revolution is responsible for a lot of interesting things in human culture, it hasn’t ever delivered a utopian society. In fact it very often leads to a lot of harm and suffering with just a change in the demographics of the people inflicting the suffering and those receiving.

There is something far less drastic than revolution that is far more effective in bringing us closer to a utopian society. That thing is compassion. Unlike emotions like anger, hate and fear, which originate in the basal ganglia, neurological structures that we inherited from our reptile ancestors, empathy and compassion are a product of cerebral activity. In other words, a person without these cognitive skills is emotionally stupid, cognitively impaired. It is not strength to be without compassion, it is weakness, pathological weakness. If you don’t believe this statement, ask yourself, who in our community are completely devoid of empathy and compassion. It is the psychopaths, people who rape, murder, torture, molest children without the slightest feeling remorse. They do not represent an evolved or evolving humanity. Those without compassion or who devalue compassion represent a diseased state of being.

Thus, I created this image to illustrate how each of the billions of individuals on this blue planet has the power within themselves to generate a revolutionary change in society, without revolution.

Compassion is evolved, compassion is strength.

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Eer2

I generated this image to illustrate some important points regarding ethics and ethical/moral reasoning.

The title, “Ethics = empathy x respect squared” is not meant to be taken as a genuine algebraic formula, it is merely a play on Einstein’s formula for energy, E=mc^2. It expresses the idea that two very key elements to an ethical character are a) that a person is capable of empathy for others, and b) that they are prepared acknowledge the right of others to be treated with respect. By making reference to Einstein’s famous equation, which has had a significant impact on our understanding of the universe, I’m attempting to illustrate how ethical reasoning is of fundamental importance to our functioning as a social entity.

The sagital section of the brain, is arbitrarily delineated into four sectors. Each of these represent four qualities that I’ve held for a long time to be essential to being a good human being, virtue (ie engaging in prosocial behaviour and thought while refraining from antisocial behaviour and thought), compassion (the product of empathy), understanding (ie making the effort to use reasoning and evidence in making ethical decisions while refraining from ignorant thought processes such as stereotyping, bigotry etc), and finally tranquility (if a person has a calm mind then they are more able to reason clearly, perceive evidence, and less likely to react in emotive and antisocial ways).

In the lower right area of the work is listed what developmental psychologists recognise as the universal and sequential levels of cognitive development in the human species. These are the levels identified by the researcher Nancy Eisenberg. You will note that I have labelled the first three levels as being religious levels (with the label placed over the basal ganglia to represent that these are very basal modes of ethical reasoning). If you examine the moral instruction given by major religions you will realise that the forms of reasoning they use fit into these low level categories. Studies have indicated that religion in fact retards the development of ethical cognition, with followers often not rising above the sterotypical level. This is defined as representing a 7 to 12 year old level of reasoning. The majority of people tend to only reach the empathic level of moral reasoning, with only a small number developing partially internalised principles and strongly internalised principles. People tend to switch between different styles of reasoning depending on the circumstances. The reason few people obtain the higher levels of ethical reasoning is that little to no emphasis is placed upon the development of these skills in our education systems. Even the use of an already available curriculum such as P4C, Philosophy for Children, would be enough to help rectify this situation, leading to a more prosocial school environment and society.

Finally, in the lower left area I have simply listed the three major principles of ethical reasoning used in ethical philosophy and applied ethics. Individuals who reach the sixth level of moral reasoning often discover these themselves. It is my contention that the aim of each individual and the aim of education should be to raise everyone’s consciousness to the highest level of moral reasoning that they are capable of.

The Four Breathes of Danu

Image

Born to breathe | forth beauty

Into a world | of darkness

The Alfar | bring forth light

Unto the dull | unenlighted.

Wheel within | the wicker,

Turned by four | breathes of Danu,

Ignite the light | and the fire,

Consume the base | and forge the kind.

Her breathe with | beauty breathing,

Compassion, | that shining light

That caresses | the world and cures

Tortured minds | with kindness.

The second | susserates strength.

Cultivation | of will and wit

Over base drives | and emotion.

Virtue is | her second breath.

Soft breath of | stillness peace

brings the mind | calm awareness.

Danu’s third breath, | tranquillity.

keen, kindling and | beneficent.

Echt empiric | and empathic

Ascendant, | logical thoughts

Chase the dark | of ignorance

With the breath | of understanding.

An explanation of the Alternative verse form used in “The Four Breathes of Danu”

The poetic verse form I’ve used in “The Four Breathes of Danu” is based on the skaldic verse forms used in the Old Norse sagas such as “The Poetic Edda”. Rather than rhyme, skaldic poetry is structured around alliteration, syllablic accent and syllable count.

Of course despite originating from Old Norse, English is different to Old Norse in a number of ways. Thankfully though, it is similar enough to use this poetic form. An example of the difference is in the syllabic accent. Old Norse has predictable lexical stress as the accent is usually placed on syllables in the word stem and so the accent usually falls on the first syllable. Whereas, in English the lexical stress is less predictable and so it is regarded as having variable stress.

There are three forms of Old Norse skaldic verse, Fornyrythislag, Ljothahattr, and Malahattr. Each has a slightly different structure that I have described and illustrated below using my notes, notation and examples from “The Poetic Edda” translation by Henry Adams Belows.

Fornyrthislag – Old verse – four-four measure – normally entitled -kvitha (lay)

each line has a ceasural pause – 2 half-lines

each half-line has 2 accented syllables

each half-line has 2 (sometimes 3) unaccented syllables

the 2 half lines are bound together by alliteration

Fornyrthislag

[2′] [2-3] A [2′] [2-3]

[2′] [2-3] A [2′] [2-3]

[2′] [2-3] A [2′] [2-3]

[2′] [2-3] A [2′] [2-3]

Example from Belows:

Vreiþr vas Vingþórr, es vaknaþi

ol síns hamars of saknaþi;

skegg nam hrista, skǫr nam dýja,

réþ Jarþar burr umb at þreifask

Translation from Belows:

Wild was Vingthor when he awoke,

And when his mighty hammer he missed;

He shook his beard, his hair was bristling,

To groping set the son of Jorth.

Ljothahattr – Song measure – four-three measure – normally entitled -mol (ballad)

first and third line of each stanza are as for fornyrthislag

second and forth are shorter with no ceasural pause

– three accented syllables

– two initial- rhymed accented syllables

Ljothahattr

[2′] [2-3] | [2′] [2-3]

[1’R][2′] [3-4]

[2′] [2-3] | [2′] [2-3]

[1’R][2′] [3-4]

Example from Belows:

Ar skal rísa sás annars vill

eþa fjǫrhafa;

liggjandi ulfr sjaldan láer of getr

sofandi maþr sigr.

Translation from Belows:

He must early go forth who fain the blood

Or the goods of another would get;

The wolf that lies idle shall win little meat

Or the sleeping man success.

Malahattr – speech measure

each line of the four-line stanzas is divided into two half-lines by a ceasural pause

each half-line has two accented syllables

each half-line has three sometimes four unaccented syllables

Malahattr

[2′] [3-4] | [2′] [3-4]

[2′] [3-4] | [2′] [3-4]

[2′] [3-4] | [2′] [3-4]

[2′] [3-4] | [2′] [3-4]

Example from Belows:

Horsk vas húsfreyja, hugþi at mannviti,

lag hayrþi orþa, hvat á laun máeltu;

pá vas vant vitri, vildi þeim hjalþa:

skyldu of sáesigla, en sjǫlfkvamskat.

Translation from Belows:

Wise was the woman, she fain would use wisdom,

She saw well what meant all they said in secret;

From her heart it was hid how help she might render,

The sea they should sail, while herself she should go not.

I have adapted the above forms after experimenting a little. In this form each line is separated by a ceasural pause creating two half-lines. Each line has three accented syllables. There may be one or two in either half-line but no more than three in the whole line. The accented syllables in the first line are alliterated. Finally, there may be three or four syllables in total within each half-line. Thus:

Wheel within | the wicker

1A (3) 2A               (3) 3A

Turned by four | breathes of Danu

1 (3)                           2            (4) 3

Ignite the light | and the fire

       1 (4)       2                 (3) 3

Consume the base | and forge the kind

1 (4)                   2                                (4) 3

An explanation of concepts within the poem:

On reading or viewing works of my creation some may inadvertently come to the conclusion that I believe in spiritualistic concepts. This is not so. I did once have firmly held spiritualistic beliefs in my childhood and young adulthood. However, I have made the long and sometimes difficult cognitive journey to the acknowledgement that my old beliefs were childish and fallacious. I am now what I term an “ethical atheist” who acknowledges what I once regarded as “spiritual” in regards to humanity, really pertains to human sentience. In studying psychology I have found that all the mysteries of humanity are found within the human mind and not within a simplistic notion of duality. This having been said, I do utilise spiritualistic concepts in my artwork and literature. This is purely for the purpose of symbolism. For instance, in regards to this poem, I do not actually believe that the Celtic mother goddess, Danu, is a real entity nor that her breath infuses us with the positive aspects of human psychology that the poem describes. For me, the goddess Danu and her children the Tuatha De Danaan symbolise the refined possibility for humanity. Likewise for the Norse Ljosalfar, elves. As this poem indicates in the first stanza, I tend to link the Celtic Children of Dana and Norse Alfar together in my literary ideas. This is not based on any academically identified link between the two mythological peoples. It is purely out of a symbolic link that I have in my own mind. I like to think of these deified peoples as akin to the Shaolin of China. Members of their respective cultures who spend their lives cultivating their minds and their skills, seeking to attain a higher state of being. This brings us to the next five stanzas that define four of the elements that I believe are necessary in becoming a good human being.

I’ve spent many long years contemplating what is truly good, (I use the term in the moral sense), in humanity and what is necessary to attain that good and evolve as a person. I have come to the conclusion that there are four things required for an optimum humanity. These are compassion, virtue, tranquillity and understanding. All of these are a product of human sentience, not spirituality. They originate in the synaptic firing of our brains neurons. The first line of the second stanza refers to the “Wheel within the wicker”. By this I mean our mind within our physical self. The second stanza is stating that each of us has been born with these inherited abilities to evolve psychologically and override our baser instincts that originate from the more primitive parts of our brain and nervous system. To evolve requires effort, breath. We need to actively exercise our minds in these four concepts in order to evolve into truly good human beings. The wheel must turn. As you will have noticed I also use the symbolism of breathe stoking a fire. A fire of pure thoughts and serenity overriding base instincts of self interest, bigotry, greed, lust and so on.

Compassion is the most important characteristic to nurture in oneself if you wish to become a good human being. Compassion is what separates us from sociopaths. The less compassion you have, the more sociopathic you are. Compassion requires the cognitive ability of empathy. Empathy is a skill that can be taught from early childhood through role-play and giving children practice at critical and ethical reasoning skills through classes such as P4C (Philosophy for Children). Unfortunately, there is little emphasis on these skills in most education systems. Compassion is a skill that requires intelligence but it doesn’t require genius. Thus every person is capable of this, the most profound of cognitive skills. Showing you can calculate advanced algebra in your head doesn’t make the world or yourself a better person. Showing that you can empathise and show compassion does.

Virtue is the term I use to cover aspects of self-control and a general regard and respect for the rights of others. It is about actively choosing to think, speak and act in a way that is courteous and abstemious of base drives.

I first discovered meditation when I joined the local Judo school in my youth. Unfortunately, this is another thing that people tend to mistakenly associate with spirituality and religion and thus is not regarded with any seriousness. At least not in the Western world. Fortunately, as part of my martial arts training, it was not burdened with any such associations for me and I discovered how valuable the act of seeking a calm state of mind is. It frees the mind from stress, lessens drives and emotions such as anger, and it clarifies thoughts. Thus tranquillity is an essential element to evolving as person.

Understanding as I refer to it encompasses the concept of “enlightenment” as defined by the western search for empirical understanding of the world that began again during the renaissance after the long hiatus of the dark ages. It also encompasses the eastern concept of “enlightenment” that has more to do with ones existence as a social and ethical entity. I would go into more detail, however, I have already made this a rather lengthy document for the subject. So I will leave it at this for the time being and hope that I have elucidated the poems structure and meaning somewhat, rather than make it more confusing.

Postscript:

If this encourages you to read the Poetic and Prose Edda or other pieces of Norse literature, please don’t read it blindly and become a Norse god sycophant. If you read them while thinking intelligently you will realise that the Norse gods are criminal in nature. They murder, rape, lie, steal, commit incest and other atrocities. There is nothing worth holding in high regard about the Norse gods. It’s rather disturbing that a whole culture once worshipped these base entities. They represent the antithesis of my poem.

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