Originally published on Huffington Post.
New York Times columnist David Brooks recently wrote a very moving and thought-provoking piece about the Brian Williams affair. I don’t usually find myself in agreement with Brooks, but there’s no reason for everything to be political, is there? He was making the case for compassion, a feeling seriously in need of a PR agent. So quaint, the idea of practicing the sympathy métier, when the business of manufactured outrage can be so lucrative; but there is sound judgment in it.
Word on the street is that Williams might not be getting his job back, and maybe that’s as it should be, if only because someone new will get the chance to earn 10 million dollars a year! Come on, Brian, be compassionate. You made a mistake, and yes, the punishment is harsh, but this is your opportunity to gracefully step aside, comfortable in the knowledge that, with very careful planning, you never have to work again if you don’t want to. Compassion is a two-way street.
But never mind about Brian Williams, let me get back to making my case for compassion, as my new best friend David Brooks suggested. Here are a couple of theoretical situations to illustrate its essential virtues over those of sprinting to the Ministry of Silly Outrage:
I walk into the bathroom and find my husband’s dirty socks sitting on top of the hamper, instead of inside it. My instinct is to storm into the next room to deliver a tirade, which usually begins with, “I work just as hard as you all day, why do I have to…” But if I, instead, open the hamper and throw the socks in, I will have saved him from my useless wrath, and spared myself the resulting anger of my silly outrage–because the dirty socks scenario, troubling as it is, has been a recurring one for the past 26 years!
An agent, or your own agent, sends you a nasty email telling you that the novel you submitted for consideration is a bloated wreck of asininity, and that you should go back to writing school. Rather than dash off a super polished takedown of the emissary, along with your masterfully crafted list of his/her astonishing character flaws–including but not limited to an obvious inability to spot talent–you stop to consider that the literary gatekeepers are not the luckiest people on earth. They make money off other people’s labor, while at the mercy of the indecipherable whims of the publishing giants. You, on the other hand, can thrive by doing something else with your talent, like writing songs or poetry (just kidding), or writing press releases, grant and business proposals, technical advice manuals, voice-over material for documentaries, corporate biographies and brochures, movie-plot summaries; the list goes on. Everybody needs a good writer! You also decide against sending your best friend an email consisting of what you would have said to the agent, because, 1) you realize that, thanks to Big Brother, that email can very easily find its way to unintended inboxes; and, 2) you have resisted the impulse to insult a fellow Earthling just because he/she insulted you. Upon reflection, you feel good, and you go out and spread that good feeling to everyone you encounter. Plus, the likely vituperative exchange has not been let loose upon the atmosphere and into the air we all breathe. Another round for compassion.
I could go on with the theoreticals, but I’ll stop here, and, instead, point out a fascinating bit of information recently promoted by none other than the fearless leader of this forum, Ariana Huffington. In introducing a concept called “What’s Working”, “a global HuffPost editorial initiative to double down on our coverage of what’s working,” she opted to cast a floodlight on something I’ve long known to be true: giving in to fake outrage breeds fake celebrities like Nancy Grace, Glenn Beck and Donald Trump. Actually, she didn’t say that, but I’m sure she meant to! No, what she really said is this: considering our better natures makes sense on multiple levels, and is, surprisingly, what most people organically ascribe to–a recent study of behavior on social media shows that the most oft-shared stories are positive stories, not the depressing ones about beheadings. And, I would bet that if Huffpost is launching this new section, it’s because it makes make financial sense, as well. Another knockout blow by compassion.
The propensity to bloviate seems like a natural reaction to issues and people we find offensive, like hypocritical public figures, for example. But it’s only an impression propagated by the bloviators. We are natural born shoppers; at least I am. Among other things, I go shopping for clothes, success, meaningful encounters, and because I am an author, I often go shopping for rejection, too. I think I’ll add compassion to my shopping list. I bet it’s going to make me rich.