1. Young-Mason, Jeanine EdD, RN, CS, FAAN

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The act of compassion is costly. It makes us consciously aware of the agony around us, the spiritual and moral poverty. -Georges Bernanos1



Compassion, like freedom, is a word whose meaning becomes clearer and finally clarified in practice when known through desire and need, in hands-on life, so to speak. Also, like freedom, compassion is shown to be a mutual act drawn from the interdependence between two or more people who suffer together for its realization. While freedom may seem an individual experience demanding that an individual act his or her way out of passivity, it, in fact, depends on action and reaction from others to be realized or denied. Compassion is also an action and a reaction, an interchange of desires that form a passion in which one takes on and gives and another gives and takes on. That action diminishes the isolation and passivity that can exaggerate suffering beyond a human being's capacity to endure and even psychologically control its passage through his or her body and psyche. This interchange is most profoundly and vividly depicted in works of literature and art, which mirror human life in its range of experiences, especially its passions and extreme capacities, its release and suffering, and its craving for freedom and needs of compassion. No textbook can express the simple unselfconscious, monosyllabic cry of pain and joy found in life and echoed in literature, which goes deeper than any theory about humanity can. Thus, literature is a crucial primary source for those concerned about human care, especially for those needing to deepen their understanding of how humans both need and are aroused to give are. It is a mirror that shows both career and cared for sharing in the action of compassion, through their common humanity responding in each.**



The act of compassion revives hope. Yes, it is costly because it makes us "consciously of the agony around us, the spiritual and moral poverty." Recognizing not only our own but also all humanity's desire for justice and hope, we realize that what is asked of us is no mere sentiment. It is the forceful, willful act on behalf of others, transcending our own reasons for not acting. We have to work toward a purgation of reasons.




Bernanos G. Why freedom? In: Ulanov J, Ulanov B, trans. The Last Essays of Georges Bernanos. Chicago, IL: Henry Regnery; 1955. [Context Link]


*Nursing and the Arts column The Tragic Consequences of Indifference, May/June 2017.


**Excerpted from Young-Mason, J. States of Exile: Correspondences Between Art, Literature, and Nursing. 1995. New York: National League for Nursing Press. [Context Link]