Once, a long time ago, I was witness to a hit and run. Never really saw the car, but I was the man who stopped to help the victim. She remained conscious and I remained calm, all the while telling her that things were going to be just fine. I knew they weren’t. She was bleeding from her eyes and ears and was concerned about her husband getting upset she was going to miss work that day. I took off my coat and gently placed it over her, worried that the cold, snowy ground was going to compound problems of shock. The collision was so hard that her shoes bounced off my windshield some forty feet away, so my gut feeling was that there was much more injury than could be diagnosed by casual observation. I continued a simple reassuring conversation with her, never letting on what I really thought. My only goals were to keep her conscious and to try and stop her from panicking. Within minutes the paramedics showed up. Her condition in this short span had already showed signs of deterioration. The blood flow from her injuries was increasing and she had lost her eyesight. I never asked her what her name was. I guess I didn’t need to. They whisked her off, and I continued to work, wondering if she was even going to live. Seventeen years later, I still wonder.
What behavior marks the pinnacle of our aspirations? That morning I spent ten minutes lying to a total stranger, and yet at the time I knew I’d done the right thing. That morning I treated someone differently than I might have wanted them to treat me, and looking back, I wouldn’t hesitate doing the same thing again. That morning, though tragic for someone else, forced me to abandon what I normally thought of as proper conduct and embrace a much more powerful idea, kindness.
The “Golden Rule” that all of us are familiar with is something I cannot fully endorse anymore. It is a good idea and a great place to start, but it can be abusive and heartless if practiced with too much passion. I am forty-eight years old. I carry no shame with my age and I never will. For one, I’ve never associated how old I am with who I am. Now I ask you, just because I carry this belief close to my heart, does this give me free rein to ask all who cross my path what their age is? There is no doubt that this is indeed treating others the way I want to be treated, but the very idea of doing this is selfish and inconsiderate. The “Golden Rule” applies in this situation only when I change the angle of approach by generalizing the moment; would I want a total stranger asking me a question I was unprepared or unwilling to answer? Of course not.
The second situation that seemed to violate my ethics all those years ago was lying. My heart knew this was a circumstance where the outcome could easily end with the death of the person I was talking to. Yes, it did cross my mind; what I would want to hear if the roles were reversed? If I felt the end might be near, would I like the chance to say goodbye to those I loved? Would I want to express a final thought? Would I want to ask forgiveness for things I could no longer correct? These are harsh questions and not to be lightly asked when a life hangs in the balance. I suppose if death were eminent, that there was no chance living, then yes, by all means I would want the truth. Even then I suppose I’d want it tempered with reassurance and faith that what awaited was not to be feared. I had no idea what lay in store for this woman an hour from then, but I had a grasp of what the immediate future held. Instead of handing her the facts, I opted to give her nothing but hope. It wasn’t just for her, but to a small degree, me as well. I had to share a belief that things were okay, if nothing else so that she could hang on long enough for those who could bring real aid to have a better chance.
One of my mentors says, “When facing the choice to be right or to be kind comes up, choose kindness.” This means never saying to someone “I told you so.” There are of course times that require a blunt approach, but they always seem to come before any given incident, not after. I feel potentially negative honesty is best used as a warning. It also comes in handy to point out unrecognized acts of self-destruction, but even this is still nothing more than a warning to not repeat oneself. Basically, I believe that “Honesty precedes, while compassion follows.”
To live compassionately is my goal. To be empathetic (not sympathetic) towards all I meet is the life I demand of myself. To align with another individual’s priorities, even for just a moment, erases my ego. I cannot be “self-centered” when I become “they-centered.” This is a blessing of the highest sort. All the pain, anguish, bitterness, hostility, angst, regret, and fear that had so effectively eroded my life was the direct result of the storms of my selfishness. The peace that compassion continues to feed me, strengthens me. May it strengthen all of us.
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With Love and Compassion, Daniel Andrew Lockwood