What Horowitz learned about compassion

David Horowitz is the author of Radical Son, his autobiography about his transformation from a 1960s New Left marxist radical, to an equally sharp-elbowed thinker and writer on the right.

The son of New York City communists, his latest book, A Cracking of the Heart, is a remembrance of his daughter Sarah, with whom he had a difficult relationship because her political views collided with his.

In the Wall Street Journal he writes:

Is it wise, I asked, “to put our trust in strangers, or to love our enemies as ourselves? Would we advise our children to do so?” Then came a passage to which Sarah took great exception: “I cannot embrace this radical faith,” I wrote. “I feel no kinship with those who can cut short a human life without remorse; or with terrorists who target the innocent; or with adults who torment small children for the sexual thrill. I suspect no decent soul does either.”

Sarah took these words as an attack on the very rationale of her life, and responded at first with anger. But she relented and then wrote me this: “My objection is that you’re confusing compassion with gullibility. I do visit prisoners and I think it matters to make that human connection. That doesn’t mean I’d necessarily trust them with my purse. I wouldn’t let the State execute them in my name either. I don’t think kinship with people who’ve crossed the line blurs my own morality. In fact, it gives it more clarity. If you see someone in the fullness of their humanity, you see how they are acting out their own confusion and suffering. This does not justify hurtful or evil acts. It doesn’t even always inspire forgiveness. But if you see someone this way, you respond more in sadness than in anger. And that is simply a more excellent state of being.”

An earlier and expanded version of this essay is here.

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