Getting Radical with Compassion

by bryan maynard


There is a great man who makes every man feel small. But, the truly great man makes every man feel understood, and thereby makes him feel great. G. K. Chesterton wrote those words, and when I think about a man or woman who has allowed this kind of strength to be birthed and grown in his/her own nature, it makes me think about getting radical with compassion.

Here’s why.

Radical comes from the Latin radux, and it means ‘root.’ Getting to the root of something is being radical, literally. In common speech, we use the word ‘radical’ to mean someone who embodies the truest essence and commitment to something. “She is a radical vegan.”   We mean by this: “She has become vegan at the core of her identity as a person. She embodies this naturally and genuinely.”

When it comes to virtue, things like fortitude and temperance and justice and compassion, getting radical means being planted in the ground with the seed of virtue and that seed has taken root ‘underground.’ From underground, that inner place of our Will, the seed cracks open and living forces begin to establish a specific kind of life in the ‘hidden place.’  We might say, “She is radically compassionate,” and we would mean, She IS this virtue of compassion. It has taken root in her personality to the point that it has become unnatural for her to hate and to allow her anger to develop into malice. It is natural for her to empathize. She has grown into the kind of being who returns kindness and forgiveness for slander and wrongdoing because she sees how people get where they are.

Getting compassion to take root and then grow in my heart requires watering and nourishment. For me, this means looking into the eyes of the person in front of me, and seeing the world as he sees it. Here is John, standing near me. He is looking out at the world. From where he is looking, I wonder what he sees; what he hears; what he thinks; what he feels? Can I get past labeling and judging to get into his world so I can truly understand what it’s like to be John at this moment in time?  If I cannot do this, is it because I have unrest ‘taking root’ in me through fear or pride or shame? Maybe I am just having a bad day, or a bad decade (as in my case) and need to allow myself to be weak. This is also being radically compassionate.

At the end of my life, I hope it is natural for people to say, “He saw me, saw the world through my eyes. He heard me and somehow that gave me strength and it instilled love and hope inside me. He made me believe, again.” I think this is what makes people great…even though they can’t see it yet.

And, I think this is what getting radical with compassion means… for me, anyway.