In her book Regarding the Pain of Others, Susan Sontag notes that “Compassion is an unstable emotion. It needs to be translated into action, or it withers.”
Bearing witness is not enough. Looking carefully at the shoes of the other is meaningless; one must be willing to actually put them on, to actively identify. Otherwise, the emotion quickly dissolves into apathy and cynicism, which the world already has in abundance.
Such identification then becomes an act of self-discovery, an understanding that the suffering of the other is unified with our own suffering. Compassion is not pity, with suffering held at arm’s length, feeling sorry, but rather an active placement and conjoining of the self with the position and circumstances of the other.
With this in mind, we are grateful to defense attorney David Coombs for steering us towards a website where individuals perform simple acts of identification and justice regarding the ongoing incarceration of Bradley Manning:
Attorney Coombs tells us that Mr. Manning looks forward to a day when he might engage in public service:
We look forward with relish to Bradley Manning winning an election to congress, and then standing, fully clothed, among those who once clamored for his death. In the meantime, we shall try to stand in his shoes.