Thursday, February 12, 2015

Compassion Disjunction (Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction Challenge)

#1000Speak: 1000 voices blogging for compassion on February 20.
I have been occasionally appalled when someone on social media responds to a post about death or suffering with misplaced humor, and yet I myself was tempted to make such a remark just yesterday. 

I won't tell you what it was; suffice to say that it was an off-color and completely inappropriate comment on an obituary. I didn't post the comment, but that it occurred to me and I caught myself snickering over the idea was disturbing.

I was wondering why, so I was pleased when Charli Mill's Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction Challenge provided a good opportunity to think about it more deeply. In the context of a call for 1000 bloggers to post about compassion on February 20th, Rough Writers Norah Colvin and Anne Goodwin introduced two concepts that extend from compassion. Weltschmertz is “world pain”, the grief we feel at how the world keeps falling short of our expectations. Meliorism is having the belief that the world can be improved by the actions of humans.

Compassion—literally feeling with someone else's painrequires a sense that one can do something about the situation. We all suffer an overload of stories of pain which we are helpless to amend as we read the paper or surf the net. I believe this contributes to a lessening or a lack of compassion.

So here is the challenge from Carrot Ranch (and the encouragement to post again on February 20th):

February 11, 2015 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that demonstrates compassion. You can explore weltschmerz (enabling us to care enough about what’s wrong) and meliorism (driving us to try to do something about it) if you want to explore those specific terms. Consider posting on February 20, too.

My response to the challenge has more to do with the inappropriate response that diminishes Weltschmertz because of our inability to invoke meliorism—and how this can overwhelm us due to the very human urge to give in to compassion anyway.

Compassion Disjunction

"Attacks Against Schoolgirls on the Rise" he reads, and sips his coffee. Next page of the paper, he sees "University Shooting Victim Left Paralyzed". He brushes bagel crumbs from his shirt; they land on the page over "Racial Slurs Written on Stabbed Woman's Body". He shakes the paper, flips to the international section. "Jordanian Pilot Burned Alive in Shocking Video" provokes a "tsk" as he takes another sip of coffee. He scans onward.

With his last sip of morning coffee, his throat closes, and tears spring to his eyes, as he reads "35 Cats Dead in Weekend House Fire."