Compassion is among the finest of traits a person can demonstrate. But is it conceivable that somebody might have too much?
That is to say, is it possible that one can become overloaded with compassion and begin to drift into the lane of the ridiculous?
I think so.
I recently witnessed three incredulous examples of someone encumbered by their compassionate feelings.
The first moment came a few months ago at the Soto Cano Air Base in Honduras. I was there to solicit help for the Chispa Project, a nonprofit started by my daughter, Sara, to build children’s libraries in Honduras.
We met a sergeant who was impressed with Chispa’s compassion but disappointed to hear the Chispa compassion couldn’t be extended to her striped friends.
“It’s so sad that this base euthanizes skunks. Can you help me find a rescue for them?”
The idea of extending our mission to include something so far out of bounds is what military folks call “mission creep.” To me, the answer was black-and-white so I quickly dismissed the suggestion as far too “creepy.”
But thankfully, my daughter, who is far more compassionate than I, simply promised to “ask around.”
On the second occasion, I was at a barbershop for a haircut when a spotted towhee flew into the window. The barber contacted an animal rescue organization who rehabilitated the bird and released it.
My wife loves towhees, so I deemed that effort “kinda nice.”
But the one that really ruffled my feathers was a local effort to solicit compassion for a rescue kitten named Will. The feline has a hole in his heart, so a University of California at Davis vet student campaigned to successfully raise $8,000 for heart medication and surgery.
While you read this, I can picture those among you who are so sympathetic to living creatures that you wouldn’t allow a grasshopper to die, much less a warm-blooded mammal. My brother-in-law, Ben Nuckolls, founded California Wildlife Encounters and accomplished more than 500 rescues in 11 counties last year. He goes out for nearly everything, but last year he declined a sincere request to save — no kidding — a grasshopper.
With all the heartbreak I see as a hospice chaplain, it’s easy for me to consider the above anecdotes as crossing the line from compassionate to unreasonable. Still, I try not to judge anyone who is expressing legitimate kindheartedness.
However, I can suggest some preliminary points to ponder before you spend your compassion allowance on what seems like a worthy cause.
First, check your motivation. Ask yourself if you’re doing this to help the cause or to help you. Sometimes the answer can legitimately be both, but the scale should tip in favor of the charity you are serving.
Consider the ratio of your charitable support. For instance, if you are giving to help a single kitten, you should probably give a bit more regularly to aid your local zoo or animal shelter. Curtail your generosity for instances that offer only a temporary fix to a single situation.
Practice “charitable multitasking.” That means don’t limit your charity to a single cause. Divide your attention between causes that will support local, national and international efforts.
Contemplate your emotion. Sentiments play a critical piece to charitable giving, and pictures of kittens, kids and puppies can certainly overstimulate our emotions toward contributing. I learned this when my publisher pictured a little girl holding a teddy bear on the cover of my first book, “No Small Miracles.”
Even the Chispa Project isn’t above playing the cuteness card through the depiction of an adorable kid reading a book purchased by generous donations. But along with those pictures, legitimate charities, like Chispa, will offer honest solutions for real problems, not simply give you warm fuzzies.
Finally, I’ve often heard said in the military, “check your six.” That means look behind you to see who is joining the cause. If you’re the only one deploying for the skunk rescue, there’s a fair chance you’ll be overwhelmed by the stink.