Compassion and justice PDF Print E-mail
Monday, 07 April 2014 11:13



Most people strive to be virtuous and many focus their reflection on developing those virtues which they think they have little of. For myself  I often think of the virtue of compassion.

A straightforward dictionary definition of compassion is that it is the capacity to feel what someone else is feeling under a given circumstance and being moved to want to help the person. Some  situations  which are  supposed to move me to compassion very often present a dilemma for me. I feel the dilemma because I weigh the prod to compassion against the prod to exercise justice, which is another virtue. And justice simply means exercising fairness in one’s decisions and actions.

An example of a situation which creates a dilemma for me is how to react to someone begging. Compassion should make me realize that this beggar has no money, money can cover an important need like food and  I have some coins that I can spare. But do I immediately take out the coins I can spare and give them?  Not quite. I realize that this beggar needs the money but I also know that there are other people with the same need but who do not go out to beg; they make the effort to work and earn  what  some simply beg for. Is there justice there then? There are times when I wish that the sense of justice does not manifest itself in these occasions.

I remember a time when I was waiting by the side of the road for the car to pick me up. A woman came by who  walked like she was not very well; she must have been in her 60’s though she walked like she was older than I.   But she may also have been younger, since people who have lived difficult lives tend to age faster than those who have been more comfortable. She was carrying a plastic bag which held a couple of bunches of kangkong and she was offering this for sale. Without any hesitation I bought some of the kangkong, and I think I did because she wasn’t simply begging but making the effort to “earn”.

Compare this woman with the youngish women usually carrying a child at the hip and cadging for money at  street intersections. When you don’t give a coin they might give the side of the car an audible slap or walk away but not before they make a face at you. Can I … should I…feel compassion for this people?

Another good case for reflection is the situation of the IDPs in Zamboanga City, especially those in the city’s sports center. There are those who will use this situation and say this is an example of discrimination of people because of  their religion, a line of thinking  which my own sense of logic finds preposterous.

I do feel compassion for the IDPs but  in justice we have to accept that the Enriquez Sports Center was meant to be just that, a venue for sports activities. It was not built to be an evacuation center and so the amenities for evacuees are far from what they should be. Services can be better but before we hurl charges of discrimination we should also correctly identify who created this sad situation in the first place.

Compassion and justice can be in a tug of war against each other.