Then came a passage to which Sarah took great exception: “I cannot embrace this radical faith,” I wrote. “I feel no kinship with those who can cut short a human life without remorse; or with terrorists who target the innocent; or with adults who torment small children for the sexual thrill. I suspect no decent soul does either.”
Sarah took these words as an attack on the very rationale of her life, and responded at first with anger. But she relented and then wrote me this: “My objection is that you’re confusing compassion with gullibility. I do visit prisoners and I think it matters to make that human connection. That doesn’t mean I’d necessarily trust them with my purse. I wouldn’t let the State execute them in my name either. I don’t think kinship with people who’ve crossed the line blurs my own morality. In fact, it gives it more clarity. If you see someone in the fullness of their humanity, you see how they are acting out their own confusion and suffering.
“This does not justify hurtful or evil acts. It doesn’t even always inspire forgiveness. But if you see someone this way, you respond more in sadness than in anger. And that is simply a more excellent state of being.”
A more excellent state of being. My daughter not only understood the limits we face in trying to repair the world, but she had taught me that compassion like hers could be informed by a sense of these limits as well. “Even if you’ve never had this experience,” she continued, “respect the experience of those who have. I’m not talking about an idea either. This is a full-bodied understanding of another person. This practice has in fact transformed all my relationships, including ours by the way.”
— The Wall Street Journal, December 25, 2009
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