Written by Barbara Lazear Ascher, On Compassion is a fascinating essay whose time of publication is not well known, though it was revealed in the Elle magazine in 1988.

In her works, Ascher dwells much on the issue of compassion. According to her, compassion is that desire or want, to reduce the effect of a painful situation experienced by a person. She posits that compassion is not an innate trait, but comes by learning through the day-to-day experiences. From her illustrations, the homeless people and in general, people who lack the fundamental requirements, food, shelter, and clothing, serve as what induces compassion, that is portrayed by the society today. However, rich in lessons to the society, criticism chips in, based on her view of the compassion in today’s society. Are all, able and willing to learn and apply this trait, as Ascher puts it? No, is the obvious answer.

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Based on her view, she assumes that every person is literate. She is a lawyer, a sign that her level of literacy is quite higher and she able to learn and understand, even by seeing, the situation of other people. She can successfully identify a suffering individual, not only by what she can see or get from him/her, but also by her psychological revelations. This is only limited to the learned, like her, but all cannot fit in this category.

There are, in the midst of her audience, those who see and have interacted with all sorts of afflicted people, but have never offered any sort of assistance. Are they selfish or inhumane? Probably this is not the case. It is only that, they lack the knowledge of compassion, and need to be taught about it, not only through writings like Ascher, but also, orally. In addition, the issue of homelessness needs clarification. The author gives the illustrations of the two men and the players, as homeless and helpless people, who deserve compassion. She does not define the conditions of the homeless people. One cannot become dispossessed because he/she has been found on the way and neither can he/she become one simply because he/she is pleading or in rags! Ascher needs to extend her views basing on the current society.

The issue of business is on the peak and people have turned out to be business oriented. Entrepreneurs are everywhere today and as a feature of them, they are risk takers. This implies that they can sacrifice themselves, only to make sure that their businesses grow. They are willing to spend time on the streets, in pitiful conditions, skipping meals, and pretending to be severely suffering, just to capture the minds of the compassionate people.

They end up getting assistance. However, what is at the back of their minds is far from homelessness or hunger as people think, but business. Ascher ought to have clarified this issue. Compassion is a choice.

There is no external force, which can take it out of a person, other than the person him/herself. The author assumes that all are compassionate and are willing to show it off, but this is not the case. The truth of the matter is that all have the trait, but not all can extend it to others. This is so because the decision to help is individual’s secret, even if the lesson of helping is taught to him/her.

She fails to understand that cows can be taken to the river, but cannot be forced to drink the water. It is upon them to decide! She should therefore teach the subject of compassion to the audience and leave them to make their choice, whether to do it or not. Ascher deserves credit for her works and particularly this essay on compassion. She has given a living example on what people ought to do concerning the issue of compassion in relation to the un- and disabled people. The many assumptions she makes when addressing this fundamental topic, creates the way for criticism, and ought to be clarified to all people before they apply compassion in the real world situations.


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