Compassion: What's Behind the Curtain
"Earlier this month, I led and spoke at a massive march for Lolita's freedom that has now made international headlines. People now understand her plight, realizing that it is unacceptable to kidnap and enslave a sentient being for the sake of entertainment."
Throughout my entire life, I have always been able to read other people’s emotions with the nagging desire to help them through the turbulent times in life. I am compassionate; I "feel and show sympathy and concern for others." Without this characteristic, my life would not have meaning. I would not understand the cruelty of slavery, of bullying, of animal abuse. I would not be an activist. Without compassion, we are empty pieces of skin and bone that fail to empathize with, care for, and understand others.
But there is a difference between understanding someone and being compassionate. Understanding, or recognizing someone's pain and forgiving their mistakes, is an element of compassion. But empaths take this knowledge a step farther. They not only recognize someone’s pain but also help them push through it.
It is for this reason that the synonym pity does not work. The word has a negative connotation in society, implying that the one pitied is weak and helpless. This devalues life and the purpose of existence; nobody is weak and no one is helpless. Compassionate people use their empathetic abilities to guide and encourage others through their struggles - not because they think someone is weak, but because they are nurturing and altruistic.
I do not pity Lolita. Despite all that she's endured, she has remained courageous and kind. Her perseverance guided me out of a depression in the ninth grade and made me realize that life isn't about waiting for the pain and misery to end, but about learning how to find love and grace in spite of them. Pitying Lolita would be an insult to her strength, making it seem like her suffering was in vain. How could someone call themselves compassionate while making someone else feel worthless? How could someone call themselves compassionate when they sit back as that person stumbles and falls?
I cared too much to sit back while Lolita and other animals were suffering. So I dedicated my time to animal rights, fighting tirelessly to make people realize that animals possess emotions similar to our own. At first, I thought that my efforts were futile. But over the past five years, I volunteered in Costa Rica to protect sea turtles from poachers, I appeared on national television to denounce the use of cetaceans for entertainment, and I became a youth ambassador for many well-known organizations.
Earlier this month, I led and spoke at a massive march for Lolita's freedom that has now made international headlines. People now understand her plight, realizing that it is unacceptable to kidnap and enslave a sentient being for the sake of entertainment.
Compassionate people ignite change. Lolita could have killed the people who captured her or attacked her trainers, but would that really solve the problem? What lesson would we learn? We would only fear cetaceans and our connection with them would be destroyed even more. Cetaceans are a bridge to the natural world with their powerful and relatable intelligence. Through her compassion, Lolita helped us rebuild that bridge and ignited the largest march ever for a captive cetacean.
I visited Lolita’s prison, wanting to see her and gather footage for a short film I’m making about the inspiration of her story. She swam towards me after the last show as I stepped up to the tank. All of the other people turned their backs and left the stadium; we were alone. I felt her pain, I felt her loneliness, but I also felt her strength and love. I cried again, this time out of joy. The day before, over 1000 people from all over the world marched for her freedom. People, organizations, and companies put their egos aside to make it happen because they were compassionate.
I whispered to Lolita that people are learning, that I love her, that she is not alone, that she'll soon reunite with her family (who is located and well-studied), and that her suffering has not been in vain. She spun towards me, looked me straight in the eye, and shook her head as if she was nodding. Another tear fell to the ground. The security guards ordered me to leave and I reluctantly complied. But compassion transcends borders, race, species, time, and other false dualities. It is universal. No matter how large the gap, I will always be with Lolita and hold her in my heart.