“On Compassion” by Barbara Lazear Ascher
The purpose of this essay is to question the readers. Ascher wants the audience to analyze themselves to determine the reason behind why people show kindness, whether it is out of fear, pity, or compassion.
Compassion is learned through experience and seeing those less fortunate; it brings out sympathy because one cannot ignore it when unfortunate people are everywhere.
“And yet, it may be that these are the conditions that finally give birth to empathy, the mother of compression. We cannot deny the existence of the helpless as their presence grows. It is impossible to insulate ourselves against what is at our very doorstep. I don’t believe that one is born compassionate. Compassion is not a character trait like a sunny disposition. It must be learned, and it is learned by having adversity at our windows, coming through the gates of our yards, the walls of our towns, adversity that becomes so familiar that we begin to identify and empathize with it” (58). Ascher describes how daily experience with the less fortunate eventually causes one to become compassionate, because ignoring the misfortune is not possible. Seeing hardship on a daily basis becomes part of one’s life because we are “so familiar” and it causes us to recognize it easily and understand. She claims it’s learned because as one grows more familiar with it, one is more able to recognize with it. One does not have compassion if they are never surrounded by hardship; however, if one is always surrounded by hardship, eventually one loses the feelings they once had about it because it becomes too common. Eventually one may lose compassion or fear for “adversity.”
Ascher has a very observant scientific and curious tone. She analyzes the people’s moments on the streets and is curious to why people would behave the way they do.
The speaker is carefully watching and observing people’s interactions because she notices that “his hands continued to...
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