Compassion is not condescension, but a leveling of the playing field, a recognition of yourself in others and an acceptance that their stress is your stress, that their happiness is your own. The gulf between us all is imaginary, born of insecurity and fear.
– Stephen Schettini, “What to Expect When You’re Reflecting”
Years ago, we lived in a small community in north Alabama. The town was in the valley between two mountains. According to the local folks, everyone knew of the two very different attitudes that filled the cultures of the two mountains. On one mountain, the question was always “who are your people?” The question was an attempt to place you, at first glance, into a hierarchy of the better people over the inferior people. On the other mountain, as it was explained to me, it didn’t matter if you owned thousands of acres and were wealthy from generations of farming (which was common) or whether you owned one pair of overalls and worked digging potatoes to keep life and limb together: you both knew that you stood on level ground. Everyone was equal.
I took those stories to heart as the way people understood two rural cultures, and I also found it hard to believe that there was such an egalitarian mindset in the one place. That is the dream, though, isn’t it? When true compassion is the stuff that runs a culture–whether it’s an agrarian culture or the culture of a congregation in metro Atlanta, the field levels, and we begin to see each other, accept each other, and find ourselves and our stories reflected in the other–even those who seem at first glance to be so different from us.
That’s also called humility in practice.