2015 – National High School 3rd Place

Campbell Knobloch, Maryland.

“Without violence there would be no compassion,” proclaims Nicholas Sparks in his novel A Walk to Remember. (Yes, I am aware that I just quoted Nicholas Sparks as the opening for a philosophy essay. But please look upon me with compassion for it.) Compassion flows from violence. Concern for the sufferings of others begins when a victim of some act of violence needs to be comforted. However, simply because violence births compassion does not mean that it has a greater impact on society.

Without unfortunate circumstances, many of which come from violence, compassion would not present itself. Without exposure to illnesses when young, we would not be immune to greater ones later on in life. Something ever greater and more powerful rises from an ugly reality. Without the backdrop of apartheid, Nelson Mandela would not have as great an impact as he did. The same goes for Martin Luther King Jr., Mahatma Gandhi, and so many other figures who are appreciated and respected for their enduring, compassionate souls. Crises of violence call forth greatness in human beings.

In truth, we are animals. And with that identity comes a violent nature that is instilled in the fibers of our beings. But, being human, we pride ourselves on having created civilizations in which the choice to be compassionate exists. We have made a world that permits us to be sympathetic, and empathetic. And it is on these choices that human society is built, that it progresses more and more towards humane ends.

Violence is easy to fall back on. Too easy. In times of strife we struggle to be compassionate, while violence presents itself as low-hanging fruit. Just as Eve knew not to eat the fruit of knowledge, we are aware of how uncomplicated relying on violence for power appears. After the ruling of the Ferguson case was released, riots ensued in anger and spite. An act of violence only caused more acts of violence, leading towards a cyclical trap. And I will not deny that the riots expressed the rage and exasperation of the public, but they have in no way resulted in a change. The long-lasting and successful methods will be those that show respect and love for all human beings and the victims of racial stereotypes. As Pope John Paul II stated, “Social justice cannot be attained by violence. Violence kills what it intends to create.”

After moments of violence, it is compassion that prevails. Wars filled with terror and violence create conditions where people act with the greatest care, compassion, and kindness, and it is those acts that endure. It is the tale of the Good Samaritan assisting his enemy in a time of need. It is the image of a lotus growing from the mud. “There is the mud, and there is the lotus that grows out of the mud. We need the mud in order to make the lotus,” says Thich Nhat Hanh. The lotus, symbolizing purity, perfection, and peace in Eastern religions, blossoms only in the muck. And it is the same with compassion.


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