The well-respected social scientist Hugh MacKay has accepted to become an Australia Compassion Ambassador. Hugh is the author of many books, his most recent is Australia Reimagined: Towards a More Compassionate Less Anxious Society, and we are indeed very fortunate to have Hugh as our inaugural ambassador. Below are Hugh’s thoughts on why compassion is the only rational response to an understanding of what it means to be human.
We belong to a social species, so our personal health and wellbeing depends upon the health and wellbeing of the neighbourhoods and communities where we live. We need groups – herd, tribes – to sustain, nurture and protect us, and even to give us a sense of identity (which is why we may experience anxiety, depression and other forms of distress when we feel “cut off from the herd”). If we are to preserve social cohesion, we need to develop the habit of treating each other with respect and compassion – especially those we don’t agree with, and those we don’t like much. Compassion is not an emotion: we don’t have to feel affection for those in need of our support. All we need is to accept that, being human, we are all in this thing together; we need each other. Compassion is the great antidote to anxiety: nothing steadies the emotions like the knowledge that someone else needs us. It is also the crucial ingredient in the life of any flourishing community. Compassion is like a bridge across the gaps that can so easily divide us – political, religious, ethnic, cultural, generational, regional, socio-economic. Once we understand all this, what alternative is there to adopting the discipline of compassion as a way of life?