Compassion without Condescension….

I looked up from the groceries I was tucking into the trunk of my car when I heard her voice. Instantly, my judgmental senses went tingly….(Think: spider senses but without the super powers or altruistic motivation…) “Excuse me….Do you have any bottles?  I’m just trying to get my car to Jackson… I just need $3.00.” She was older- I think, or maybe life had just etched itself harshly on her features. She nervously tugged at her scarf as she talked. There was something childlike behind the etched face. There was also something.. hard.

“Sorry- all I have is a water bottle….” Grabbing the empty re-usable football water bottle still in my trunk from Sunday….Maybe I was trying to give evidence that I had no bottles…. Or maybe I was looking for a weapon…just in case. (Parking lot muggings are always on the news… or maybe on drama-mentaries….whatever- pretty sure I’ve seen this scene before. and it never ends well. ) “I’m just trying to get enough change to get to Jackson.” She replied.

Which is about the time I remembered I’m a Christian and my word for the year is: Mercy. Rescue. A lightbulb went on and I realized this was one of those “opportunities.”

After quickly looking around for accomplice’s and finding none….(It was daytime and I was the sketchiest person in the parking lot..)  I reached into my purse, carefully covering the fact that I had more than change in there…(No need to advertise that I actually HAD 20.00 duh.) Like a poker player covering their hand -I counted out $15.00 and suddenly had a weird feeling come over me… it was one part power, one part love and one part feeling… well….. good that I had something that someone else needed. I wasn’t just going to give her the $3.00 she asked for, I was going to BLOW HER MIND with my generosity. “Here— I don’t want you to run out of gas…” I said handing over the wad of singles,my words dripping with either love or condescension.. I’m not sure which. Except, it didn’t blow her mind. She looked kind of….bored. She took the money, smiled- and then scooted away across the parking lot.

Possibly heading directly to the nearest liquor store. ( I am fully aware that this is a classic parking lot scam…but a long time ago I decided not to withhold help because of assumptions….

Score one for mercy. Maybe.

Too bad I hadn’t decided a long time ago to withhold condescension as well..

Forget about the fact that I’d just helped this woman…. let’s look at my twisted thought process. I’m embarrassed to say this was more about ME- than Jesus. it was more about BEING merciful and mercy.

The truth is- it was more about condescension than compassion.

I HATE condescension. I’ve had people look at me not with compassion but condescension…condescension is placing oneself above another. It connotes a “looking down upon” someone else. An “I know better than you” Or “I will help you because you are so needy…” kind of attitude.  All of which: I’m guilty of. Often.

I hate that.

When condescended to- we feel less. Which is not mercy. Mercy VALUES a person over their actions. Mercy makes more of a person than they feel they are. Not less.

After this parking lot experience- I keep thinking about the times I’ve felt someone be truly compassionate toward me. Merciful. Without condescension.

It seems to me that compassion asks what a person feels or needs…. and condescension assumes. (Stuff like: You are a mess and I can fix you. Awww you poor thing- I am so past that kind of experience that I’m sure i can help you do this better…” ) The times I’ve felt someone have great compassion towards me- are the times when they took the time to LISTEN to how I feel and what I need,.. and then acted on it. Not the times they assumed how I felt and what I needed and did what made them feel better.

So what about you? Do you sometimes get caught in condescension? How do you show compassion without condescension?

Dear Lord- I was a hot mess of condescension yesterday. Actually- It was a regular mixed greens salad of pride, fear and condescension topped with a vinaigrette of care and love. Lord- help me to drop that. Help me to be merciful and help others the way YOU help me…. with real love. I’m pretty sure that woman in the parking lot saw right through me….I hope when she did- she saw you…. even if I was shot- blocking you. I love you lord- please forgive this heart of mixed motives and metaphors….amen.

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9 thoughts on “Compassion without Condescension….

  1. Ouch, Tracey. You went right at my heart with this beautiful article. It’s too often a thin line between compassion and condescension. Thank you for reminding me of that.

  2. That stings a little big. Or a lot. Thank you for the reminder that it is not just the action of giving but the motive behind it.

  3. Yikes! Your post reminds me of a delightful book by Keri Wyatt Kent called “Simple Compassion”. It is a wonderful book to savor over the course of a year and grow in this area. It has helped me progress in the area of extending compassion, but may well be a good re-read for me!

  4. Thanks for writing these thoughts. I struggle with the same problem and with whether or not to give to someone. I’ve decided that I’m going to assume the need is genuine and I’m going to give them what I can. If they decide to waste or abuse the gift that is there issue. I want to be a person who gives and hopes I’m helping them. If we just use that as the default, then perhaps it is easier to do this every time. I’m still struggling to sort this out myself.

    Again, thanks for writing this and I will continue to think about what you’ve shared.


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