Tuesday, December 18, 2012

What is sympathy?

I am reflecting on yet another gruesome manifestation of brokenness in our lives that intersects with freedom and the result is 26 people who will never come home for dinner again.

When these things come up, I think about sympathy. If one loved one dies or is gravely ill due to disease or accident, sympathy comes from interpersonal compassion and is a way of communicating that our hearts and minds are with those living with the change. Through sympathy, we simultaneously express our love, our concern and that if we knew what we could do to provide any support, we would.

In cases like Sandy Hook, sympathy can seem both self-indulgent and inadequate. How do we meaningfully express sympathy to strangers from across the country? We can promise to them that we will do better to see that things like this don't happen anymore. We can promise to tell the parents of the kids who hurt animals that their kid might need some help. We can promise to live as a community, not as isolated "free" individuals. We can promise to develop ways or devices to enter into and maintain the crucial conversations that we avoid out of discomfort or embarrassment, standing behind some ill-conceived notion that individual freedom trumps community well being.

Signing a sympathy card on Facebook makes us feel better. It might make the community at Sandy Hook feel better, but mostly it just tells them that we have access to mass media. True sympathy that originates with compassion means promising real, tangible change about yourself that will make this better. Stationing an armed guard at the door of every classroom - like we did with the airports - just makes us feel better, acknowledges our ideological-driven blind-sides and shifts responsibility back onto the nameless, faceless government. We can do better than that.

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