Conclusion: Seeing Rightly With the Heart

Although many may find it saccharine or inappropriate, the best conclusion I can find for an essay on compassion is to retell the fox's lesson from St. Exupery's The Little Prince.

The Little Prince, an interplanetary traveller, visits Earth and meets a fox. He proposes to the fox that they become friends but the fox will not be had so easily. However, the fox is willing to be tamed and proposes a schedule under which the Little Prince will show up every day at the same time. Each day, the fox, a wild animal used to being chased by humans, will become more accustomed to him until they form an attachment. The utility of the exercise is that the fields in which the fox lives, which are meaningless to him because he does not eat wheat, will now assume a meaning; whenever he sees wheat, he will think of the Little Prince, who has hair the same color.

On his last day on Earth, the Little Prince comes to visit the fox, who weeps at his departure. The Little Prince asks if he has harmed him by becoming his friend, and the fox replies not at all, "because of the color of wheat."

The fox then delivers to the Little Prince two morals of the story: The first is "Only that which you have tamed belongs to you". In English, this sounds possibly rather brutal, but what is intended is not force but the process by which two people become accustomed to one another and build bonds, even though they may begin as enemies. In the prisoner's dilemma, a repeated series of encounters in which two unlike players, well suited to be enemies, cooperate with and become used to one another, illustrates quite well what St. Exupery intended.

The fox's second and more significant comment is: "It is only with the heart that one can see rightly. The essential is invisible to the eye."

I believe this simple statement to be true. Logic without heart leads to death. Auschwitz was quite a logical place, organized for maximum efficiency. Murder is very frequently a logical goal. If we could kill compassion in ourselves, we could accomplish all kinds of work; we could solve the population problem, for example, by killing the "useless eaters" just as the Nazis set out to do. But, like the Nazis, we can not build anything consistent on murder, blood and mire; when you murder another, you murder yourself, and it all ends in chaos. Even if a structure could be built on murder, it would not be anything recognizable to us, for the word "human" is almost always used to mean "compassionate" or to contain an element of compassion. If "superhuman" means "beyond compassion" then it is not worth becoming superhuman.

Our reason, if not rooted in the heart, must lead us astray. As I have said before, all problems are best solved upstream, and the river begins in the human heart. I would rather commit any error brought on by excessive compassion, if such a thing is possible, than a single error of cruelty. Whether biological in origin or given by God, compassion is a gift. It is the bonds we form to one another, and especially to our honorable enemies, that allow us to transcend our former condition. Whatever we may be today that is noble and good, and whatever we may become, will be based on compassion as the cornerstone. Our logic and ingenuity will build the structure but without compassion we will build nothing that can last.