Keeping up with the Compassion Joneses

By Matt Won

Seriously, I think you all are faking it.

Hate to use Republican nomenclature in this discourse of ours, but this campus’s heart bleeds, and that really can’t be healthy.

Hats off to MacCares, those Watson winners, and all those other people consumed by things bigger than themselves: you are the heart of Macalester. And there are a lot of you.

But there are a lot of people here who feel like they have to keep up with the Compassion Joneses.

These people congregate in little societies, formal or informal, and commiserate with each other on bearing the burden of all the world’s suffering.

I myself feel stretched thin. Persecution in Tibet? Dubious college guide love for our “wonderful” institution? The impending disappearance of Blyth’s tragopan pheasant? What is one to do?

Not that any of these causes are necessarily trivial, but the question remains: how many demonstrations can one attend before dropping a class? How many slogans can one shout before the throat bleeds in protest? It’s got to stop somewhere: there’s got to be some limiting factor to the amount of productive action that can be taken on all these compassions.

It can become a self-destructive race, and one with questionable motives.

I’m so glad that we look down on rocking the brand names: it’s a cultural feature here that we take for granted.

But I don’t know what to think about people rocking the No Smoking circle with the cross inside, or the Free Tibet iron-ons. Make no mistake: the Prada label and the Equine Emancipation sticker come from pretty much the same place. We just happen to live in a place where Greenpeace trumps Gucci.

There’s a theory that I subscribe to that says something about identity being a set of performances that you do for other people. We’re expert performance artists at a specific discipline, and don’t make me get all David Horowitz and say the “L” word, because I don’t want to be David Horowitz.

It’s nice to be well-rounded, but I have to think that it’s better to be awesome at one thing than to dilute one’s essence across innumerable issues. I mean, there’s only so much of me to go around.

Here we’re not just seeing the white “person’s” burden, but rather the privileged burden. This may not be revelatory, but what we’re seeing here isn’t white guilt, it’s privileged guilt.

It’s not just about showing off and establishing the depth of one’s passion for any specific cause. It’s also “Maybe if I can only care enough for the people with less than I have, it’ll make my suburban two-story OK.”

I have seen the toll that this compassion takes on those stricken with this disease. I have seen students throw the most agonized fits over such issues as student loans, an issue which, for the student in question, was completely abstract, as said students’s parents paid her full tuition.

And for what? Compassion is a necessary human emotion, but it can be taken too far.

Why have an ulcer over your boy Lamont’s race if you don’t even live in Connecticut? Before long, this abstract compassion gets counterproductive.

My plea to you is to emancipate yourself from these pressures. Carpe diem and all that. It’s OK if you’re not “aware” about Tibet. This is not a call for ignorance, it’s a call for rationality, and reality. Faking it? Never a good idea.

Put your full worth into your true passions, and save the world in your own way, not everyone else’s way.