This week, both Elizabeth Edwards and dday wrote pieces filled with something that is far too often lacking in political discussions: compassion. And I wanted to highlight a bit from each for everyone this morning because, frankly, both struck a chord with me.

First, from Elizabeth Edwards:

…Last week—when Tony was still alive and I was not so afraid—I rode my bicycle in a small Fourth of July parade at the beach to which we have gone for close to two decades. When I got to the celebration and stepped off the bicycle, an older man approached me. I hope you are doing well, he said, and then he added—oddly, it is more often the case that people do feel obliged to confess the gap between us—"although we don’t agree on much of anything." I thanked him for his good wishes and then I added—as I often do—"and I suspect we agree on more than you think." He smiled, I smiled, and that was that. And then Tony died. And I thought more about the things on which we agree and the things on which we disagree. And as with my parade companion, I suspect Tony and I agreed on more things that we might have guessed. 

We each chose to reach for something larger than the life and body with which we were saddled when we kept our course after the last diagnoses. We did it because we thought it was important and because (although it is chic to say that one detests politics) we actually loved the give and take it, the struggle to find what you think is right and the imperative to make others understand and agree. But what, in the end, does it tell us about what we each found to be really important? I am guessing it is not school vouchers or the expensing of stock options or class action lawsuits about salacious material in video games. It was that woman who stood with him years before and promised to love him in sickness and in health; it was those children, whose births marked the very best days of his life. And it isn’t so different for any of us, is it? Not for the rich man or the poor man, for the Ethopian or the Thai or the Oregonian. So why do we have such trouble turning what we have in common into common cause? There will always be fault lines where we just disagree, but can’t we find—maybe in our founding documents—the things on which we do agree and work from there instead of starting always, always perched as soldiers along those fault lines?…

And further, this from dday:

…My dad’s in his fifth day of radiation treatments right now. He got the same type of cancer his father got, which is the same cancer his father’s brother got, and I suspect it’ll be the same cancer I’ll get someday. There isn’t an insurance agent, conservative activist or Republican politician alive who can tell me that they disagree with the imperative of keeping alive those who we have the ability to treat. It’s an argument without a rebuttal, at least without one that is cruel or evil. And when we reach out, even to those political opponents, through common experience, and common cause – that’s actually how we become a more progressive nation. We have a tremendous empathy deficit in America – the inability to stand in the shoes of our brothers and sisters. Edwards’ expression of empathy is an object lesson. 

When you face a conservative movement that is wholly dedicated to putting up roadblocks and turning off the spigot of empathy, making this a cruel and angry and paranoid and fearful nation, it can be hard not to fight back in the same manner. But I think, while engaging in the fight is fundamental to the survival of this democracy, occasionally we have to step back and recognize the human truths. Elizabeth Edwards is heroically battling on the front lines for reforming our broken health care system. But she hasn’t forgotten that the issue goes beyond spreadsheets and mandates – it’s about fathers dying young, sons without treatment for their ills, mothers who can’t afford their pills. It’s about healing. And you can only be on one side of that debate.

There’s no calculation in these remarks. They are simply truths. It so happens that these truths, and the courage and bravery exhibited in saying them, are unquestionably progressive.

Now, beyond the obvious best wishes for both Elizabeth Edwards and dday and their family and friends and, frankly, for every one of our readers and writers who are also facing family and/or personal health battles, there looms a universal truth that doesn’t get nearly enough discussion, and that is this: 

At its roots, human behavior can come from a lot of motivations and end games.  But we are all at our best when we remember to be humane.  Because at its heart, compassion calls to the best in all of us.

We are strongest where we find common ground, rooted in the best of who we ought to be. And we don’t spend nearly enough time contemplating ways to do just that. Perhaps that’s because we all get so caught up in the day to day battles that we forget to look up and contemplate what we really, truly want the end result to be. But in order to get where we want to go in the end, we need to think about the end game — and how we get there together.

So, let’s talk a little compassion this morning, and try standing in someone else’s shoes for a change. You might find the view a little enlightening. Pull up a chair…

(H/T to Digby. YouTube is a classic Coca-Cola commercial.)

Christy Hardin Smith

Christy Hardin Smith

Christy is a "recovering" attorney, who earned her undergraduate degree at Smith College, in American Studies and Government, concentrating in American Foreign Policy. She then went on to graduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania in the field of political science and international relations/security studies, before attending law school at the College of Law at West Virginia University, where she was Associate Editor of the Law Review. Christy was a partner in her own firm for several years, where she practiced in a number of areas including criminal defense, child abuse and neglect representation, domestic law, civil litigation, and she was an attorney for a small municipality, before switching hats to become a state prosecutor. Christy has extensive trial experience, and has worked for years both in and out of the court system to improve the lives of at risk children.

Email: reddhedd AT firedoglake DOT com

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