I was reading somewhere—I'll have to find the reference—that historically, the most effective means so to speak of reducing inequality have been war, revolutions, disease or epidemics, and hunger. All bad things right?
Certainly, no one would assert that in order to unite us as a people—in order to make us start believing we are equals—we should thrust ourselves into yet another war, or overthrow our government, or control the population by releasing some dreadful virus or rationing food.
But we all want unity, right? Equality? I know I do. I want to see an end to racism, to abject poverty, and to the disparity between those who are able to receive healthcare and live healthy lives and those who are unable to receive adequate healthcare or live a healthy life.
My grandparents, just a few days ago, were complaining that one of their prescriptions was over $100 each month. In other words, $1200 per year is one of the barriers they face to living healthy lives. And of course that's just one of the medications they need.
My grandfather is a veteran, he's been healthy all his life, doesn't smoke, he exercises, he worked a physical job all his life, and he makes healthy dietary choices. If anyone is entitled to healthcare, it's him. So draft-dodging fat-cats can afford their four bypass surgeries but a veteran can't get his meds at a reasonable price?
That's just one example that highlights the massive inequalities we face today in United States.
If no government—not a liberal government and not a conservative government—has been as effective as war, political coups, disease, and hunger in stamping out inequality to date, maybe there's something beyond government and beyond policy that we should implement.
What do war, revolution, disease, and hunger all have in common? I would assert that they force us—nearly instantly—to adopt compassion for one another.
Who, upon seeing images of innocent children crying in the streets after a bomb has leveled their homes, doesn't respond in compassion? Who says, "Well that's the price that kid paid!" Surely no one thinks that way. Surely, everyone understands that there are those, even on the enemy's side, who are worthy of compassion.
And who, upon hearing the protests of an oppressed people, doesn't feel some compassion? You turn on CNN and see images of parades of men and women demanding representation, begging for rights, or crying out for help. How could anyone ignore their cries for justice?
In the past year, we've seen revolutions big and small taking place in Yemen, Venezuela, Catalonia, and surrounding the Black Lives Matter movement, the MeToo movement, and on college campuses across the US. Who could respond with anything other than compassion to a people voicing their feelings of oppression?
Who responds with anything other than compassion when hearing of widespread disease? When the Zika crisis among pregnant mothers in Brazil was made known, who among us didn't feel compassion? Or when we hear of the curable diseases that are still taking lives in third world countries, who among us isn't heartbroken?
When disaster strikes and millions are without power, food, or clean water, and illnesses spread through broken communities—how can you respond to that with anything but compassion?
Sure, there are people out there who aren't moved to compassion instantly when viewing those terrible images. But for the majority of humans, good men and women who are able to empathize because they, too, have suffered, the first and the immediate response to the injustices of our world is to be moved to compassion.
So if the most effective means of reducing inequality is an injustice that moves us at once to respond in compassion, then I think it can be said that the most effective means of reducing inequality is compassion itself. How is it that we experience compassion?
I've given the answer away already, it's when we empathize because we too have suffered. We know, even if it's in some small way, we know pain. When we know our own heartbreaks we don't wish heartbreak on another.
Cliché as this may sound, you can't spell empathy without 'empty.' The Puritan Thomas Shepherd has a quote I dearly love, he said he feels that it is his duty to feel empty. "My duty, out of a sense of emptiness…" the phrase begins. Shepherd goes on to say that he simply cannot experience fullness until he has known emptiness.
We can't be filled with compassion before being emptied in one way or another. We might be emotionally emptied by the pain of loss, we might be financially emptied by a stroke of terrible luck, we might be physically emptied in our battle with disease or trauma.
I believe that it is our duty to channel that emptiness. It's my job as a human to sit in my emptiness for awhile so that, drawing on my experiences, I can be filled with compassion for another. Emptiness is the great equalizer. Not war, not oppression, not famine, not sickness. Emptiness unto compassion—that's how I believe we end inequality.
This is one of the wonderful benefits of reducing clutter and living intentionally with regard to possessions. My empty room becomes a material representation of the emptiness I'm duty-bound to meditate on every so often in my effort live compassionately.
The elimination of distractions can prompt me to pursue activities that are meaningful, that contribute, and that encourage others to live compassionately. I can make a difference in the world when I'm no longer spending all of my time on myself and my things.
I wholeheartedly believe we're all called to compassion. And I'd argue that the life lived simply and intentionally best sets us up to live compassionately and generously.