Way too many words
And myriad syllables
Saying, “much ado…”
Way too many words
And myriad syllables
Saying, “much ado…”
If I say that our use of the 85th%ile rule is killing people (and I think the data shows that it is – a point I think the NTSB has acknowledged), is that “aggressive and argumentative”? Does that allegation render some space “unsafe”? That would appear to be the claim of the new acting head of AMATS, the Anchorage Metropolitan Area Transportation metropolitan plan organization.
Let’s face it, all I am pointing out is that our planning and design concepts from the foundations up are in fact the reasons people die on our highways. While many have known and argued this for years, it is particularly illuminating when traffic engineers like Charles Marohn are attacked professionally over it.
No area of study predicated on the premise that humans act rationally can ever be seen as rational or science-based because we have oodles (that’s oodles in the scientific sense) of evidence that this IS NOT the case.
So, would you say that someone arguing for streets to be “safe spaces” being called out for making “unsafe spaces” by way of his requests, “double speak” ? Is it intended to lead to “double think” ?
I recently chatted with a DOT employee who was asking why I would suggest that local municipal ordinance mandates the planning department collaborate with community councils on any plans, and that municipal staff working with AMATS who refuse so to do are violating the spirit as well as the letter of the law (not to mention the offense it does to the bylaws of community councils that were forced upon them by ordinance). Don’t you find it strange that despite the clear language about the roles of community councils in developing plans at all stages, that folk involved in metropolitan planning should questioning efforts to engage councils?
A conversation with a municipal employee about disagreeing agreeably brought the matter into focus for me. Aside from the mathematical impossibility of agreeing to disagree (yes, there IS a peer reviewed paper on that ) my question is how to be agreeable over something like the implications of the 85th%ile rule, or claims made when records requests show no basis for the claims. If I say, “Well Donald, your statement is demonstrably inaccurate based on these well documented facts”, why should Donald get upset?
I want people to stop dying on our roads. The NTSB has made it very clear that people are dying on our roads because of poor planning, design, and enforcement. How does my municipality, any municipality deflect that? Well, in large part we dissemble (some suggest that is the polite way to argue mendacity); we don’t adequately enforce, we don’t properly plan, and we design and construct with reckless abandon. While whinging against corporate personhood when it comes to rights, we seem happy the avoid any personal responsibility by blaming all on the corporate body.
Offering our state DOT staff a challenge; I agreed that if their engineers would run all the roundabout crossings of one of their roundabout highway intersections (2 roundabouts and numerous crosswalks) without stopping or slowing down I would cease carping about roundabout safety. Of course no one took me up on the challenge as it would not be safe, and yet the same agency prints materials claiming that those self same crossings are safe. You just can’t have it both ways.
People should be safe from terrible bodily injury sustained on our roads and streets. That injury is in no small part the result of the actions of AMATS staff. That may be disagreeable and uncomfortable, but it is true. That should make one feel unclean, not unsafe. I suppose the contra argument AMATS makes is “we only plan; we don’t design”. The unfortunate parallels to those claims are too low hanging to bear repeating here.
One of the guys who actually gets our roads and trails maintained and I frequently meet, and he, like some others, thanks me for calling and encourages me to continue despite the fact that I suppose I AM very critical. What do you think is the differential between someone like that and someone who claims to be afraid to talk to me via zoom?
Having been told that words hurt, let me suggest they don’t hurt as much as getting hit by a truck.
At the risk of repeating myself ….
I think it intriguing that while a major reason for public education, at least in the US, being to ensure that everyone, through familiarity with a literary canon, shares at a minimum some basic memes, the public can become so outraged at the very concept of a literary canon.
A literate nation is not about being able to decode words in a third grade reader; it is about being able to comprehend the exchange of ideas among the members of the polity. It means that when I hear the lyric, “Just ask Alice”, a broad range of maps are brought to bear because I have the key to the references. To paraphrase Barth, the key to the treasure is the treasure.
Silly lists are first and foremost silly lists, but they give us pause, at least those of us willing, to stop and reflect on the “canon” and our shared experience.
EJ Dionne argues effective that we have lost all sight of any sense of community, and the lack of shared literary exposure is part and parcel of that loss.
I certainly am not a fan of “mandatory reading”, but I also realize that I wasted much of my educational time in no small part because my teachers were not able to shift my voracious literary appetite beyond a few genres. Decades later I discovered how to manage that and I think it unfortunate we do such a poor job at that…
Today you can read just about anything you want at little or no cost on any smartphone. We have text readers and audiobooks. But we spend our time passively plugged into multi sensory media.
We need to read more.
We need to read what others read.
We need to read that which challenges us.
A friend opines,
“Why do Democrats believe that the citadel of freedom and liberty rests with government instead of with the people?”
And I respond,
“Curious you use the phrase MacArthur used 1 to refer to Manila on his departure…”
But the phrase is iconic and symbolic; semiotics being perhaps the last standing claim Homo sapiens has to uniqueness, it is strange that one of that species not understand the equivalence he questions. How did “America” become “a city upon a hill”? How did the Statute of Liberty become a symbol of American freedom? What renders the US at all remarkable is not the people, who are as loathsome as any other humans, but their republic… Why do some, ignoring that fact, focus on the foolish factionalism that the propounding pops decried as the death of that republic.
The drafters of our Constitution were steeped in the canon of the day: Greek and Roman literature which condemned the hoi polloi; the very name of the Senate conveys the founders intent to safeguard the union through the good offices of patricians who stood above mammon and mountebanks. Nevertheless, the fearful demanded an amendment to specifically provide the means to extinguish, militarily, insurrections (which were a very real contemporaneous problem).
The seat of that republic is, if there is such a thing, the Capitol, which was specifically designed and constructed to that end; the very essence of the republic for which it stands.
The myths of America while woven out of whole cloth, provide genres that arguably explain the delusions of a substantial minority of the polity. Today we are as conflicted over these shadows as de Tocqueville was almost 200 years ago.
A number of people have suggested that as teachers “got what they wanted” (Superintendent Bishop finally relented over reopening the schools to face-to-face instruction) we should all just move on.
Let’s be clear.
Teachers did not get what they want.
Teachers want sane leadership that is concerned for the health and welfare of the community.
Teachers want evidence-based data-driven analysis not rhetoric and mendacity.
Teachers want to teach without endangering their students, their student’s families, or themselves.
Teachers don’t need to be told how and when to sacrifice.
And teachers don’t want to have to invoke a contract clause that says that can’t be required to that which is unsafe.
Teachers want to serve the public good, and want to work for people who feel the same way.
All modern transportation design guides addressing urban transportation, in an attempt to protect all persons of “all ages and abilities” while maintaining “flexibility”, require the use of cycletracks where there is an arterial or “connector” and the speed of the vehicles is over 30 miles per hour. That’s a lot to unpack. What we are really saying is that when you have car volumes as you see in most major urban locales for connectors, and those cars are moving at over 30 mph, it is critical that bicycle users on such roads be physically protected from automobiles.
Cycle tracks are, in gross terms, bicycle lanes that are protected from motorized traffic by physical barriers. The barriers could be lanterns, bollards, curbs (continuous or or not) etc. Painted “buffers” are not cycletracks, although many design apologists argue they provide “protection”, hence the rise of so much confusion as to what anyone might mean by “protected bike lanes”. The best practice is to use the terminology found in the design guide you reference. Hence the use here of cycletrack, which is the term employed by NACTO.
Confusion is further engendered because design apologists have suggested that if a road is posted 30 mph, it needs no cycletrack. Those folk have missed the “fine print” as it were, in that even the FHWA points out that the speed relied on in addressing the appropriate infrastructure is operating, NOT posted speed. So what do they mean by operating speed. In most cases they mean 85th percentile speed of all traffic. The 85th percentile marks the speed at which 85% of the traffic is doing that speed or slower. By way of example. If you have 100 motorists on a street, and 85 of them went 40 mph, 10 of them went 45 mph, and 5 of them went 50 mph, the 85th percentile would be 40 mph. Let’s assume that this street is posted at 30 mph. We can then see that 100% of the traffic exceeds the speed limit. 85% of the traffic traveled at 133% of the speed limit, and the 85th percentile is at 133% of the speed limit.
The fact is that most people do NOT travel at or below the speed limit. Indeed, it is rare that you don;t find someone traveling at least 5 mph over, in no small part because everyone figures that no officer is going to give you a ticket for going 5 mph over the speed limit. Historically traffic engineers RAISED speed limits to match the 85th percentile, and, as a result, the speed limit on Northern Lights was raised from 40 to 45 (though we saw numerous cases of people losing control of their vehicles at 40 mph). Soon thereafter the speed of traffic on Northern Lights rose, and now we see traffic moving along Northern lights at 60 mph (133% of the posted speed limit).
Is that 133% some magic number? Is the 85 percentile speed always going to be the speed of 85% of the vehicles? No. In quite a few cases where the posted speed is 30 mph we see speeds of 150%, and typically the less traffic the fewer cars are going to have synchronous speeds. But it seems that most people have no problem doing 45 on a connector, or 60 on a street to be divided highway like Northern Lights. It’s typically a matter of the driver’s perception of what is appropriate in the circumstances, as opposed to a driver’s compliance with signals.
Indeed, that is one reason why traffic engineers keep raising speed limits; they know that since people do not comply, the only way to keep people within any reasonable approximation of speed limits is to constantly raise the limits. This is not true everywhere. In places like Finland traffic speeds have been reduced to 50 km on connectors and 30 km on residential streets and speed limits are ENFORCED. More and more places are using “day fines” (fines based on the individual’s daily earnings so that no one is left with the feeling that speeding is just a matter of paying a nominal fine). Finland has all but eliminated death or injury from motor vehicles.
The NTSB indicated that the most effective ways to address injuries to bikers and pedestrians is infrastructure properly designed (something we, in Alaska, have NEVER DONE), and ASE (automated speed enforcement), which Anchorage has historically viewed as an unwarranted intrusion on the freedom to kill and maim.
In Anchorage, the common wisdom is that traffic signalling is advisory only. As a result, there being virtually no enforcement, the only way to implement appropriate traffic design to protect bicyclists on roads where traffic exceeds 30 mph is physical barriers. Unfortunately, though local designers give lip service to “Vision Zero” and the like, we have no cycletrack. In fact even the sidewalks are designated as snow storage. And while northern cities in North American and Europe seem to manage snow and cycletracks just fine, you will not see any cycletracks in Anchorage because designers will make sure they are never built. Apparently, they argue, we are not quite ready to stop killing and maiming pedestrians and bicyclists.
I posed that question to the Assembly here once. How many bodies do we need to count until we do something about this. They would not give me a number, and mumbled something about how unfortunate it is. They then essentially patted us on the head and told us to go back and play in the traffic.
The Anchorage Park Foundation (APF) is on the warpath yet again. Last month they released a Google Forms petition that asked just about everyone (but elected officials) to spend money to create something already there (https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSfYlTdg36Z0ttJ2DAwemCgVp7IROOHni-2xBEh7GizRIHaH3Q/viewform), and I’d like to spend a few of your moments addressing why this is another bad idea.
The petition is not addressed to elected officials, but to various MOA staff and to AMATS, which underscores probably the biggest problem we have with transportation infrastructure in Anchorage: planners are not accountable to the public. Specifically, the petition is addressed to
* Anchorage Metropolitan Area Transportation Solutions (AMATS) Policy Committee
* Anchorage Project Management and Engineering
* Anchorage Parks and Recreation
* Anchorage Traffic
* AMATS Staff
and, after some self-aggrandizement (more on that below) the petition makes the following request:
We urge you to allocate funding for a public process to determine a preferred alternative for a safer crossing at this important intersection and work together on a wayfinding plan to make this unique and lovable trail system a destination for all.
One small problem…
Yes, a safe crossing has been in place there for decades. A block and a half south of where the creek flows under Lake Otis Blvd is a tunnel. Yes, a nice wide tunnel, much nicer than anything one would see down by Westchester Lagoon. And that raises a handful of very important questions! Questions nowhere visible in the petition!
It gets better, of course. It turns out that the tunnel lies on a line between where the trail comes from and where it goes to; in other words, the trail goes out of its way to a crossing that will never exist, as opposed to taking the route that would employ the existing tunnel.
But take heart!!! Though things would have been simpler to align all those years ago, it is still relatively easy to fix the problem. And yes, I intend to keep you, Reader, hostage as long as I can.
So why would someone design a trail that eschewed the only viable crossing? There are a number of possibilities, but most of them reflect the kind of critical view that most in government are allergic to, so let’s look at giving the question a more positive spin, and that suggests two possibilities.
The first is that at the time no one saw multi-use trails as transportation corridors (lame, yes, but not as negative as most explanations…). Arguably the Campbell Creek Trail would be just that: a narrow band of asphalt that would run the length of Campbell Creek. Of course, who would have expected that another trail following a major water course would be so popular that we would spend almost $1,000,000 redoing it (but not making it any wider over much of its course). Well, the truth is LOTS of PEOPLE understood that the design was inadequate, but who listens to the public???
The second argument, I suppose, is the “build it and they will come” magical thinking bit that we bought in the movie theaters. The trail followed the creek, and eventually the MOA would have to widen the bridge over the creek to included a bike trail (as money was no object…). Yes, there are such tunnels in some locations, but though the nearby corner has been rebuilt over, and over, and over, and over again, and though we opine mightily about “non-motorized plans” and supporting non-motorized users of our municipal infrastructure, “they came”, but without the buckets of cash needed to build a bridge, or another tunnel.
The truth is that we are never going to build a bridge over Lake Otis at the Creek, and with all the other demands on diminishing (already gone?) funding, who in their right mind would build ANOTHER tunnel under a six lane highway? Can you spell BOONDOGGLE? But what, you ask, is wrong with APF trying to hustle a little interest?
One of the biggest problems here is that once again APF is subverting a complex and comprehensive process whereby communities feed their capital improvement project requests through the municipal system. Indeed, what APF “does best” is bypass all that by getting a direct appropriation from the State, and thereby making a virtual mockery of the all the work that all the “little people” invest in trying to push their respective projects forward. But, you exclaim, APD is a private, non-profit, non-membership corporation, so how does it have such an outside effect on government? Well, the answer to that is the partnership scheme that was brought to bear for Parks in Anchorage, which makes partners more important than the public. Money talks.
Yes, I can provide multiple examples of how APF has tried to run roughshod over the public, but since I am trying to keep this short, and some Assembly members get positively red in the face when Ms. Nordlund’s name comes up, we can set that aside for now. But I am happy to appear at any Assembly or Administration work session to discuss such matters…
But back to Moose. People have been riding the loop around Anchorage for years. As part of their little self-promotional branding efforts, APF started calling the loop, The Moose, and started promoting an “initiative”, which in part also celebrated APF accomplishments, while issues that APF does not want to address “under the carpet” (e.g. “celebrating” Pine St., which has accomplished nothing, while ignoring Boniface and RJSP – safer routes needing extensive work but ignored for decades).
What can be done (to address the crossing issue)? Well, for starters, we can ignore APF’s rhetoric and misdirection. We can inexpensively address the current access to Folker from Campbell Creek trail, and create a sharrow to 52nd and the tunnel on the East side of Lake Otis. On the West side we simply need to create a sharrow down Waldron to Cache. And at the tunnel itself, we need only remove the stairs and existing ramp and replace with shallower ramps on both sides. All told the few trail tweaks and the ramps would run substantially less than $50K and does not need “study” so much as some nitty gritty design work: design work that should have been done decades ago and a bit of engineering.
Most importantly, with all the critical infrastructure needs we have, these fixes are NOT critical. Period. I rode the path described above last week and it is MUCH better than a good deal of the “Moose” not being complained of! Let me be blunt: NOT NOW. Identify the fixes, put them in a plan and pass it about for comment – and then put it on the CIP list somewhere near the bottom.
Yes we need wayfinding, but APF and P&R ignored public comment on wayfinding, and as a result the little bit that is in place is disappointing and substandard. The truth is, as I noted above, that while we provide everyone with lots of Opportunities to be heard, no one ever actually listens to anything said, nor does anyone ever make any changes as a result of any testimony on any project. Indeed, on a recent project where State funding was killed because APF made such a shambles of the grant (the public DID try to make suggestions, but APF and P&R simply ignored every suggestion made), an MOA Assembly member thereupon ran about claiming that I killed the project off. Really? Considering how much pull I have with you lot, you know how pathetic such an allegation is, but there you go.
No, I could not address everything there is to say about any of this here. But lucky you, if you want to hear more all you need to do is ask. No, the various persons/parties being petitioned won’t ask, because they don’t see that as in their brief. They don’t “solve”problems, they kick them down the high speed, incredibly dangerous (and unresponsive to NTSB or FWHA guidance) roads…
Sometimes it seems just so much easier to die.
I am guilty of what others did.
I am guilty of what others didn’t do.
I am guilty of what I never intended to say and never said, but what others thought I meant.
I am guilty of not understanding how very guilty I am.
I am a source of unpleasantness that increases in unpleasantness the more I fail to comprehend that others find me unpleasant because they thought I meant something I did not mean, and find any attempt to explain the misunderstanding as, of course, unpleasant.
It makes no never mind how I feel or what I did, and any suggestion that any of the foregoing is true, is of course, evidence of my guilt.
I don’t relish hanging. Nor death by Covid19, come to think of that. But as I slowly disappear, sometimes I wonder if the process can be simply hastened.
“If you only calmed down!!!”
If I only wasn’t …
I was hovering over depression recently and was taken aback by a comment someone made about people who are subject to depression, becoming depressed by way of direct causation. By that I mean X screams at Y, and Y gets verklempt and goes all Goth and becomes suicidal (to compress things a bit). It has always seemed to me (and I think people like Durkheim who looked at the societal implications of broad depression) that depression is not a matter of discreet response but is rather more systemic. And then I realized that it is the “nonsystemic” nature of depression which lies at depression’s core.
“Good Grief!”, you gasp, “Now what is he trying to say?”
What I am saying is the depression arises on a growing sense of entropy (in the non-technical sense; my apologies to physicists everywhere). Generally, entropy is defined as
A measure of the amount of disorder in the Universe, or of the availability of the energy in a system to do work. As energy is degraded into heat, it is less able to do work, and the amount of disorder in the Universe increases (see arrow of time). This corresponds to an increase in entropy. In a closed system, entropy never decreases, so the Universe as a whole is slowly dying. In an open system (for example, a growing flower), entropy can decrease and order can increase, but only at the expense of a decrease in order and an increase in entropy somewhere else (in this case, in the Sun, which is supplying the energy that the plant feeds off).1
More popularly the term is used to describe increasing uncertainly and disorder in a system. I don’t want to belabor the thesis they promote, but I think Carhart-Harris et al. touch upon the idea I am suggesting here.
Entropy is a dimensionless quantity that is used for measuring uncertainty about the state of a system but it can also imply physical qualities, where high entropy is synonymous with high disorder. Entropy is applied here in the context of states of consciousness and their associated neurodynamics, with a particular focus on the psychedelic state. The psychedelic state is considered an exemplar of a primitive or primary state of consciousness that preceded the development of modern, adult, human, normal waking consciousness. Based on neuroimaging data with psilocybin, a classic psychedelic drug, it is argued that the defining feature of “primary states” is elevated entropy in certain aspects of brain function, such as the repertoire of functional connectivity motifs that form and fragment across time. Indeed, since there is a greater repertoire of connectivity motifs in the psychedelic state than in normal waking consciousness, this implies that primary states may exhibit “criticality,” i.e., the property of being poised at a “critical” point in a transition zone between order and disorder where certain phenomena such as power-law scaling appear. Moreover, if primary states are critical, then this suggests that entropy is suppressed in normal waking consciousness, meaning that the brain operates just below criticality. It is argued that this entropy suppression furnishes normal waking consciousness with a constrained quality and associated metacognitive functions, including reality-testing and self-awareness. It is also proposed that entry into primary states depends on a collapse of the normally highly organized activity within the default-mode network (DMN) and a decoupling between the DMN and the medial temporal lobes (which are normally significantly coupled). These hypotheses can be tested by examining brain activity and associated cognition in other candidate primary states such as rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and early psychosis and comparing these with non-primary states such as normal waking consciousness and the anaesthetized state.2
In other words, when we hear people talking about “coming apart at the seams”, or “going to bits” what we really may be hearing is their attempt to express the sense of increasing entropy, a feeling that all order is breaking down, including the manner in which they “fit” into the circumstances around them.
As I can attest to personally, as these gaping black holes open before us, it is this sense of purposelessness, senselessness, and chaos that reach and envelop us. The good news is that in many cases one can just refuse to “feed” that sense. “Pitter, Patter!” as Wayne would say.3
And, perhaps that is why those who have fortified their psyches with excessive structure are so at risk when that structure is threatened. They feel the ground beneath their feet feet shifting, and the fear they feel is not just the fear of imminent physical consequence, but the fear that nothing makes sense any more.
What I find curious is where those who do not seem to experience fear, still experience this since of entropy. Is that a mark of reduced ego, a misinterpretation of chemical signal, the result of some insight?
It would seem that people can manage to suppress entropy, perhaps using the same types of neural circuits used in cognitive inhibition (thought to regulation analytical thinking) and that such management alleviates, remediates, obfuscates or otherwise resolves the onset of depression. But it also suggests that those living in a world perceived to be completely ordered would be subject to acute depression should their perceptions waiver; in other words, their delusions of actual order keep their brains from having to balance the real existence of disorder.
With the rise of self-anointed spirituality and the sudden caché of “Buddhism”, discussion of compassion is all the rage. I have often pondered the possible obligations of “compassion”. I don’t see compassion as mandating the provision of another’s desires. Nor does compassion mandate I interfere in another’s “just desserts”. As I see it:
It is clear that there is a divide of sorts between Buddhist views of compassion and some more “romantic” Western notions. 1 A discussion of compassion by Jenniger Goetz 2 points out the “cold” nature of compassion as viewed by Buddhism.
The more one reads Buddhist writings, the more one realizes that Buddhist compassion is similar to lay conceptions of compassion in name only. While lay concepts of compassion are of warm feelings for particular people in need, Buddhist compassion is not particular, warm, or even a feeling. Perhaps the most succinct and clear mention of this is in the discussions of the Dalai Lama and Jean-Claude Carriere (1996, p. 53). A footnote explains in refreshingly plain language that compassion in the Buddhist sense is not based on what we call “feeling”. While Buddhist’s do not deny the natural feelings that may arise from seeing another in need, this is not the compassion Buddhism values. Instead, Buddhist compassion is the result of knowing one is part of a greater whole and is interdependent and connected to that whole. It is the result of practiced meditations. Indeed, Buddhist compassion should be without heat or passion – it is objective, cold, constant and universal.
Trungpa (1973) argues true compassion has the potential to appear cruel or ruthless. Compassion requires prajna or transcendental wisdom – an ability to see past shallow appearances and see true suffering and need. For this reason, compassion may involve giving someone what they really need, not what they want. In addition compassion is an open gift, it is generosity without demand. One does not expect or require reciprocity or confirmation of compassion. Indeed, true compassion will often not be appreciated and may be received with anger or hatred. The next section discusses the threat of anger to compassion and the methods for dealing with this.
From a Buddhist perspective, Harris notes 3 that,
Viraaga literally means the absence of raaga: the absence of lust, desire, and craving for existence. Hence, it denotes indifference or non-attachment to the usual objects of raaga, such as material goods or sense pleasures. Non-attachment is an important term here if the Pali is to be meaningful to speakers of English. It is far more appropriate than “detachment” because of the negative connotations “detachment” possesses in English.
In fact, at least three strands of meaning in the term “compassion” can be detected in the texts: a prerequisite for a just and harmonious society; an essential attitude for progress along the path towards wisdom; and the liberative action within society of those who have become enlightened or who are sincerely following the path towards it. All these strands need to be looked at if the term is to be understood and if those who accuse Buddhist compassion of being too passive are to be answered correctly.
Bodhi 4 states,
Like a bird in flight borne by its two wings, the practice of Dhamma is sustained by two contrasting qualities whose balanced development is essential to straight and steady progress. These two qualities are renunciation and compassion. As a doctrine of renunciation the Dhamma points out that the path to liberation is a personal course of training that centers on the gradual control and mastery of desire, the root cause of suffering. As a teaching of compassion the Dhamma bids us to avoid harming others, to act for their welfare, and to help realize the Buddha’s own great resolve to offer the world the way to the Deathless.
Considered in isolation, renunciation and compassion have inverse logics that at times seem to point us in opposite directions. The one steers us to greater solitude aimed at personal purification, the other to increased involvement with others issuing in beneficent action. Yet, despite their differences, renunciation and compassion nurture each other in dynamic interplay throughout the practice of the path, from its elementary steps of moral discipline to its culmination in liberating wisdom. The synthesis of the two, their balanced fusion, is expressed most perfectly in the figure of the Fully Enlightened One, who is at once the embodiment of complete renunciation and of all-embracing compassion.
Both renunciation and compassion share a common root in the encounter with suffering. The one represents our response to suffering confronted in our own individual experience, the other our response to suffering witnessed in the lives of others. Our spontaneous reactions, however, are only the seeds of these higher qualities, not their substance. To acquire the capacity to sustain our practice of Dhamma, renunciation and compassion must be methodically cultivated, and this requires an ongoing process of reflection which transmutes our initial stirrings into full-fledged spiritual virtues.
But, you start to whine, isn’t compassion a call to action. Mustn’t one DO something?
The simple answer, of course, is, “Yes!” But while compassion is about helping another find the power to overcome their circumstances, that power truly comes from helping another find detachment5, NOT by way of resolving someone’s difficulties. It’s not about which side of the mushroom to nibble on; it’s about acknowledging one has no need of the mushroom. 6