Saturday, January 30, 2016

Compassion is a limited resource

In a recent special episode of RPPR:  Beyond Lawful Good & Evil: Ethical Concepts in RPGs at Gen Con 2015 host Caleb raised an interesting point about compassion. Starting at 48:30 he notes how persons from opposite sides of the political spectrum work under the assumption that compassion is a limited resource and how this can be made a workable game ethics code. He takes no stance, but it appears, judging by his commentaries that he believes that compassion is in fact unlimited.

No one, I think, wants to be  accused of having too little compassion, but can we have unlimited amounts of it? As I see it, to be compassionate one must give attention to the person or beings one is compassionate about. One cannot be compassionate about someone who's out of mind. And here's the kicker, attention is psychologically limited (ever heard of the Invisible Gorilla?): one cannot pay attention to everything. What's more, it even degrades the more it is used on the short term.  Compassion depends on attention and attention is limited, hence compassion is a limited resource.

As a corollary, for compassion the more particular the better. One cannot be compassionate in the abstract; if it were so, just being compassionate about the whole world would place oneself in the pinnacle with one shot.

Furthermore, is there anybody one can point a finger at that is currently emanating unlimited amounts of compassion? The pope and Dalai Lama come to mind, but even them have to shift their attention from group to another as necessities arise, and old crises tend to fall off unless one retakes them. And there are so many hours of the day anyway.

One can be compassionate enough with the blessed amount we've got. The trick is to use it wisely.


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