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Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Unwarranted Compassion

Yesterday I stopped to get some gas and went inside the shop to get a newspaper. The lady behind the counter seemed flustered, rung me up, and then went on about doing something else.

Normally, I would have left thinking, "No 'have a nice day', no 'thank you', nothing. I'm not here for her, she's here for me! But that's the state of service these days - bad!" and I would have been right. I'm a big advocate of consumers demanding good service for their money.

But, for some reason, I didn't think that this time. Instead, I wondered if maybe there had recently been some tragedy in her life, or if she was stuck in a job she hated, or if she was just having a bad day. Of course, none of that would be an excuse to not do a good job and treat the customers nicely.

But, as I left the shop, I turned to her with a smile and said, "Have a nice day" - and not the sarcastic "have a nice day" that you might say if you were trying to remind the clerk that she should have said it.

She looked up with a smile (a real smile, not the "it's my job to smile" kind), somewhat surprised, and just seemed just a little shy about it. Maybe that brightened her mood, I don't know. But for a moment she was happy and I left the shop feeling good instead of angry.

That's the nature of mercy. It's never deserved, but it's often necessary. Since none of us deserve compassion all the time, and since the lack of compassion breeds bitterness, then we can't simply operate by the standard that compassion will always be handed out only when it is deserved. This would lead to a downward spiral where, eventually, there'd be no compassion left - that's simple math. And the best part is, the giver of compassion is often benefited for having shown it - even, in some cases, when it's not deserved.


  1. Dear DT,

    I have linked to your very interesting site here:
    and would appreciate a link back if you like my site.

    In particular I would very much value your opinion on my ebook "Inner Medicine" which contains new theories on the virtues + special exercises to help improve them.

    Best Wishes,

  2. Hi James,

    Thanks much for your comments and link. I took a look at your site and it does look very interesting. I've placed a link to it in the sidebar. I'm about to go out of town for a few days, but when I get some time I'll be sure and check it out in more detail and tell you what I think :)

  3. mercy, coupled with grace. neither of which we can do without. i was taught the definitions of both. mercy- you dont get what you deserve. grace- you dont deserve what you get. i chose both please, in large portions, if possible.

  4. I appreciate your story. I stumbled across it in a time of need. How can we deny God's mercy even when we fill we don't deserve it.

  5. Thanks Sofia for reading and your comment. While I have no experience of such a being myself, I think the logic applies as well to the giving and receiving of mercy and compassion from/to our fellow human beings. I hope you came through your time of need well.

    w/Compassion :)