Compassion is the Antithesis to Greed
Star Wars works as a morality play because it has clearly defined characters that are good or evil. Before the story even started in the space above Tatooine we knew the Galactic Empire was evil because they were described as such in the opening crawl. In the 43 years since I sat in that dark movie theater with my father, there has been much more story told, but the metaphysics that George Lucas dreamed up are present throughout. The heroes are selfless (though flawed) driven by compassion, while the villains are selfish and driven by greed.
To have a morality based on these two axes, (one being between compassion and greed, the other being between selflessness and selfishness) may seem simplistic on the surface, but I feel it gives us a framework for moral action as Jedi or even non-Jedi as we live our lives in our communities.
As I write this, it is July of 2020 and we are in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. How people have acted in this pandemic is a great illustration between selfless compassionate action benefiting a community and selfish greedy actions thinking only as individuals.
In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, there was a lot of panic buying. There were things everyone needed that people hoarded and were in short supply. Toilet paper was one of these things, as was hand sanitizer. There were stories of individuals buying up stock intended to be sold at huge profits. Online retailers had to take steps to prevent some of this happening. There was a story of someone buying all the hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes in a large area, that was later seized and distributed when they could not sell their ill-gotten goods online. This is a clear example of selfishness and greed. People thinking of themselves over others. There would have been no shortages if people bought what they needed and left things on the shelf for others who also would need it. Compassion and selflessness would have led to people thinking of others. An example of compassion in this area is the Medics from the Rosehip Medic Collective and Portland Action Medics distributing over 13,000 bottles of hand sanitizer they made by buying the ingredients in bulk to flatten the curve and save lives during the coronavirus pandemic. Where selfishness and greed have put people in danger, selflessness and compassion literally are saving lives.
The selfish/selfless divide can also be seen in the attitudes seen in the United States when it comes to wearing masks in public. It is demonstrable that wearing masks drastically slows the spread of the coronavirus. Yet again in the United States we are seeing people not seeing wearing a mask as a way of keeping a healthy community but rather an “infringement of individual rights”. Thinking only of themselves or their immediate circle they eschew wearing a mask. This is one of the contributing factors that the coronavirus is running rampant in this country, rates of infection are increasing daily as is the cost in human lives, not to mention the long term effects of those who get sick and recover. Wearing a mask can literally save lives of others, but to commit to doing so would mean thinking of others in their community instead of whatever temporary discomfort comes from a piece of fabric over one’s nose and mouth.
The divide between compassion and greed are not just seen in individual choices and actions, but also reflected in the policy of both corporations and government. The pursuit of wealth during this time has not abated. In fact, the richest of the rich have accumulated wealth during the pandemic, while millions cannot work. Many governments provided a safety net and paid their citizens to stay home to stop the spread of the coronavirus. Notably, the United States at this point has only distributed a one-time stimulus while the Republican majority in the Senate has blocked further aid, while at the same time bailing out large corporations in the tune of billions of dollars. In their greed, they are seeking to protect profits over people. It is greed that is behind the drive to keep the economy going even though it is costing lives in the numbers of hundreds of thousands. A compassionate policy would treat people and their lives as paramount seeing to their shelter, food, health care, debt relief, and other needs above the profit of corporations and that money which keeps politicians in power.
Because policy can reflect either compassion or greed, our political choices are also presented with these two choices. When we exercise the franchise of voting be it for candidates or ballot measures, we can ask ourselves if what we are voting for is a greedy choice or a compassionate one. If we want compassionate policy, then we must work towards a more just and equitable society in all regards with whatever tools we have at our disposal. And make no mistake, compassionate policy will benefit all, not just the few, and we are included in the all. By seeing to the needs and well-being of our neighbors, we will live in better neighborhoods. By caring for those distant from us we make the world better, a world we all share. I have often said, we either all get there together, or we do not get there at all. If one chooses the path of selfishness the destruction to the environment in which we live is inevitable while choosing the path of selflessness we will create a world in which we can all share and benefit from.