Finding True Compassion

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Kelsie O’Brien
Ms. Julia Salce
AP Language and Composition
3 October 2012
Finding True Compassion
In human society, man is surrounded by those less privileged, those in a state of desperation. In her piece “On Compassion”, Barbara Ascher describes brief scenes that capture the basis of transaction between the helpless and those in a position to give help, arguing that the only way society can achieve true compassion is by truly identifying with the suffering of others.

Ascher observes the world around her as a member of society, describing encounters between those in a place of misery and those in normal walks of life. As she observes the “grinning man” on the street corner and the old man who smelled of “cigarettes and urine”, she distinguishes herself from her fellow human beings. Ascher notices these people, while others “look away” and “daydream a bit”, making her stand out as someone who can acknowledge and understand those in times of hardship. Because Ascher writes as someone who can identify with adversity, she succeeds in persuading society as a whole to embrace compassion through understanding.

Ascher draws a strict line between those suffering and those privileged in her piece to specifically isolate her audience. At the very beginning of her essay, Ascher describes a group of pedestrians assembled at a street corner, intent on ignoring the haggard homeless man before them. A man “lifts and lowers the shiny toe of his right shoe, watching the light reflect” – doing anything to avoid confronting the “grinning man” in any way. Later in her piece, Ascher describes “ladies in high-heeled shoes” and how they “pick their way through poverty and madness”, hoping to escape the torment experienced by those around them. Ascher accuses these people as being the flawed majority of a compassionless society, exposing how they actively attempt to ignore and push past the living adversity that walks the streets around them. The “troublesome presence is...
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