Me, me, me; You, you, you #1000speak


This post forms part of the 1000 Voices for Compassion initiative. The aim is to bring a topic to the surface that might bring a little light and joy into the world or make you think a little about what compassion means and how you can be more compassionate which, when linked with the other voices may just, just make a little difference. Let’s hope so.

A lot of people have been defining compassion. For me it’s about trying to make the world a better place. And thus make each of us better people.

Shakespeare said,

The quality of mercy is not strained.
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blessed:
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.
‘Tis mightiest in the mightiest. 

This could easily apply to compassion. Indeed to me mercy, like compassion evokes a sense of understanding when someone is suffering and wanting to do something about it is.

Before getting to the point I’d like to make, let me set the scene a little.


I’m the lump on the left, next to the Scout leader.

As a child, I think when I was a cub scout, I was taken to a police station to see how it worked. We children were fingerprinted and the sergeant told us ‘Your fingerprints are unique’. Wiki tells me it is a 1 in 64 billion chance of a repeat which is significantly higher than the world population today.

Let me look at some other data and I hope you will see where I am going with this.

We know that our DNA, those little ‘building blocks of life’ are, like fingerprints, unique. Our biological fingerprints.

Yet we also know that for each of us we have about 99.9% of our DNA that is the same. It’s a little twist that makes us different.

That makes us an individual.

Identical twins? Well yes they do start out the same but changes to our DNA can be wrought over time, creating an individuality. I understand scientists are exploring how to test for such differences, to ensure the integrity of DNA testing.

We see it in the everyday. The curious twist in someone’s left nostril, how their left eyebrow arches, a particularly knobbly knuckle on their left ring finger. But we have to look closely enough. And these are the surface differences. Underneath as nature and nurture collide and collude the differences morph and multiply.

Let’s consider some other data.

The British census of 2011 contains questions aimed at identifying a person’s ‘ethnicity’. These are self determined, so subjective to an individual but the compliers of National Statistics believe them relevant. The first census to contain questions on ethnicity was in 1991.

These are the categories for 2011

England and Wales Northern Ireland Scotland
English/Welsh/Scottish/Northern Irish/British Scottish
Other British
Gypsy or Irish traveller Irish Traveller Gypsy or Irish Traveller
Any other White background, please describe Any other White ethnic group, please describe
Mixed / multiple ethnic groups Mixed or Multiple ethnic groups
White and Black Caribbean
White and Black African
Any other Mixed / Multiple ethnic background, please describe Any Mixed or Multiple ethnic groups, please describe
Asian / Asian British Asian, Asian Scottish or Asian British
Indian Indian, Indian Scottish or Indian British
Pakistani Pakistani, Pakistani Scottish or Pakistani British
Bangladeshi Bangladeshi, Bangladeshi Scottish or Bangladeshi British
Any other Asian, please describe
Black / African / Caribbean / Black British
African African
African, African Scottish or African British
Any other African, please describe
Caribbean Caribbean or Black
Caribbean, Caribbean Scottish or Caribbean British
Black, Black Scottish or Black British
Any other Black / African / Caribbean background, please describe Any other Caribbean or Black, please describe
Other ethnic group
Arab Arab, Arab Scottish or Arab British
Any other ethnic group, please describe

Lots of other organisations, especially in the public sector seek to gather information on ethnicity, race, religion, age and so on. We are put, and like to put ourselves, into groups.

And another concept.

In 1992 Robert Dunbar a British anthropologist suggested a maximum size for the group within which primates are socially comfortable.

Dunbar used the correlation observed for non-human primates to predict a social group size for humans. Using a regression equation on data for 38 primate genera, Dunbar predicted a human “mean group size” of 148 (casually rounded to 150), a result he considered exploratory due to the large error measure (a 95% confidence interval of 100 to 230).

This notion of our individual comfort groups, our ‘villages’ makes a degree of sense, especially as a hardwired protective instinct to keep us safe and secure.

It was reported in the press last week that ‘left-wing democratic socialism is a belief system that is protected by law under the Equality Act in the UK. To be protected you have to be a member of a religious or philosophical group that has a clear structure and belief system. If you are a member of such a group you cannot be discriminated against because of your membership. It is clear from this judgement that such categories are being widely drawn.

These are unscientifically chosen concepts and pieces of data but to me they highlight certain propositions.

1. Each of us is different to the next person in many ways, subtle and substantial.

2. We have a lot that is the same between each of us – at a genetic level in fact we are mostly the same.

3. We are hardwired to be comfortable in small groups and we can only really relate to small groups.

4. We live in societies that spend a lot of time and effort gathering data about groups within that society to help allocate resources avoid discrimination and fundamentally achieve fairness. A lot of it is self determined; i.e. we select which groups we feel we belong to. This is not, per se, a bad thing.

But, when you look around it is easy to be very aware of the ease with which society and we as individuals pigeon hole people. Stereotyping, typecasting. I watched a splendid movie, Selma this week that very specifically looked at how a significant group was discriminated against because they were all lumped together and that made the discrimination easy. It makes for easy targets. But as the film made clear, from within that group there were a myriad of personalities and conflicts. It wasn’t homogenised at all from the inside.

If you are trying to deal with, say, the allocation of benefits then having broad groups makes it easier. Big systems and institutions like broad categories. Black or white is easier than choosing which shade of grey.

We are in danger of trying to homogenise something that is biologically incapable of being homogenised because of our hardwired and socially necessary requirement to put we humans into boxes and categories.

We cannot fight  our natures; we cannot change the way modern socities function by its allocation of resources and its protection of the weak and vulnerable against discrimination.

But we can remember two things whenever we look at the actions of another human being who we, or society at large, may in some way easily be put into a box different from our own. They are indiviuals and we are nearly the same as them in everything other than a very small way. Their behaviour is their individual behaviour and we should be wary of judging them becaue of a label which they give themselves or which is given to them. We should always judge them as individuals, for them as whole people and before rushing to any judgement we should consider the whole person and their context before applying some easy trait or characteristic.

The Charlie Hebdo murders were tragic in every sense of that word. The killers, murderers, have claimed an Islamic base from which  they justify their actions. And some have sought to blame all who have Islam as part of their belief system – Rupert Murdoch’s tweet that all Muslims should apologise being but one especially egregious example. When Anders Brevik sent out his manifesto before his murdering spree in Norway he sought amongst other things a return to Christendom in Europe. We here in the West hear no suggestion that his purported reference to Christianity meant those of that faith should be co-opted into his guilt and apologize for his murderous assault. Of course not; he was an individual criminal. These people are criminals and they are individuals; they are no more representative of any group than I am. They are all individuals making their decisions for a host of reasons and either themselves or others are using easy labels by which to tar others. Treat them as individuals; if you must judge (and those committing such crimes will be rightly judged), judge them as such.

A comment on a fellow blogger’s post this week made me realise there was a gloss here I need to make. It is to do with empathy.

If we are to try and understand and appreciate what happens to people, why they need our compassion and what we might do to better their lot, then we need to have empathy for them.  However it is often noted that, when showing empathy we do so more to individuals – the sick child, suffering leukaemia is far more likely to evoke sympathy than a general plea to help children with leukaemia. And of course this is consistent with treating people as individual. But there is a danger here, in focusing on ne case. By over-empathising with the individual we can fail adequately to allocate scarce resources to where they can do the most good. We need to be vigilant. We need to accept there is a balance to be drawn.

I wish it were easy. No one said it was.


About TanGental

My name is Geoff Le Pard. Once I was a lawyer; now I am a writer. I've published several books: a four book series following Harry Spittle as he grows from hapless student to hapless partner in a London law firm; four others in different genres; a book of poetry; four anthologies of short fiction; and a memoir of my mother. I have several more in the pipeline. I have been blogging regularly since 2014, on topic as diverse as: poetry based on famous poems; memories from my life; my garden; my dog; a whole variety of short fiction; my attempts at baking and food; travel and the consequent disasters; theatre, film and book reviews; and the occasional thought piece. Mostly it is whatever takes my fancy. I avoid politics, mostly, and religion, always. I don't mean to upset anyone but if I do, well, sorry and I suggest you go elsewhere. These are my thoughts and no one else is to blame. If you want to nab anything I post, please acknowledge where it came from.
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29 Responses to Me, me, me; You, you, you #1000speak

  1. Deborah Lee says:

    Very thought-provoking. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. alienorajt says:

    Excellent post, Geoff – thoroughly enjoyed reading it.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. willowdot21 says:

    Yes Nobody said it was easy. Why , why can’t we all live together why can’t we just share wealth and food why because Nobody said we couldn’t. Sod Nobody let’s try, all of us, to show a little compassion every day. It might just catch on. Let’s join hands for compassion, after all Nobody said we would not. xxx


  4. lucciagray says:

    I agree that empathy and compassion are inseparable, although compassion must start with empathy, it must also take it a step further and do something about it. That’s the hardest part. What do you do about the person or group you feel compassion for? If you do nothing, is it compassion that you feel? Or is it just sorrow?

    Liked by 1 person

    • TanGental says:

      Pity I suppose. The need to act has to be coupled with the understanding but that is always the hardest part. But once we recognise that that need to act, that urge becomes visceral and we are on thecwsybto fulfilling the call to compassion

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Charli Mills says:

    No, it is not easy. We do need to take on people as individuals, and communities do need to be vigilant as to fairly allocating resources across that spectrum of individuals. Identifying gaps can be helpful. I look at empathy for one as an entry point — hopefully it will blossom into compassion for all. A deep post, tackling issues that politicians and communities need to tackle.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Sherri says:

    Very thought-provoking this Geoff. Fascinating data. And yes, I can see that we need to get the balance right between the individual and the larger picture. It is this struggle, between true compassion and just feeling sorry for someone that I question myself about. One thing I am mindful of is when I write about my own struggles, the last thing I want is sympathy or pity. I only share these things because I want to bring my personal experiences into the light in an effort to encourage others who might be dealing with the same sort of challenges. In essence, I want them to know they are not alone. It helps me know that I am not alone either. But the kindness I’ve been shown by such wonderful people such as yourself, has restored my faith in humanity. I don’t say that lightly, for it is true. Thank you for the bigger picture you present here, for society as a whole. It needs to be addressed and you raise excellent issues and questions. Now if only we had the answers…

    Liked by 1 person

    • TanGental says:

      Typical of the lawyer in me – great on the questions, crap on the answers! And I still charge a fee!! I understand you don’t want sympathy; it’s like when someone talks about, say, their volunteering. People praise them, which is lovely but usually they are trying to highlight from personal experience a specific issue and that urge to applaud means the message is sometimes lost. It also can seem pitying, which as these compassion posts have drummed home so well, falls well short. For me, reading your backstory, it is an education. How do you get through a day, a week when your certainties are crumbling; how do you reset your mental state and over what period when you are denied what you see others have, in terms of stable relationships? And does it make you better able to appreciate the relationships you have than someone who’s foundations have not been challenged? Of course, it’s human to want to cry with you a little, but since you are patently not short-circuiting your keyboard with tears then it is my duty as a reader to do likewise and treat your posts in the spirit they are delivered; as tales, stories, but mostly insights. As a writer, I need this stuff and, boy are you a gold mine!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Sherri says:

        And a worthy fee at that Geoff!! You challenge me more and more with your insight and excellent thought-provoking questions, for which I thank you. I wish I could give you answers but I can’t. To be honest, I was reticent at first about sharing about my dad in my blog, as I didn’t want it to be a ‘confessional’ neither an ‘airing of the family’s dirty laundry’. But I knew I had to share this part of my life as not to do so wouldn’t be honest, even though I barely scratch the surface (mindful of future publishing…*she says optimistically*). And I can’t write if I’m not being honest. I wish things could have been different, yes, but maybe if they had, I wouldn’t have been writing today. As for being a ‘gold mine’, well, that made me smile…let’s hope for a good return 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • TanGental says:

        Have I shared this before? Another memoire writer whose insights into writing the difficult stuff was fascinating and helped open me up recently to addressing stuff that’s difficult.


  7. Annecdotist says:

    Lovely compassion-day post, Geoff (and sorry I’m late, didn’t have much screen time yesterday) and impressively researched. I agree with you that it’s helpful to recognise our human limitations in terms of the amount of diversity we can manage and then try to do a bit better. I hate how Muslims are being required to apologise for the criminal behaviours of others who claim to share their faith. My husband, a.k.a. Mrpedantic (though nevertheless correct), always brings to my attention the plot irregularities and grammatical errors he discovers in the books he reads. Obviously, as a writer I take collective responsibility for these irritations, and apologise profusely. After all, my status in the household is only provisional and there’s always the threat that I won’t be able to practice my culture and religion freely within these walls. (I think I mentioned appeasement in my post!) 😏

    Liked by 1 person

    • TanGental says:

      Love it Anne; did you see the JK Rowling tweet after Murdoch’s bollocks where she said that since they were both Catholics and she was now responsible for him she was self-excommunicating herself. Perfect. I assume Norah or Irene are penning their apologies for being Australian by birth if not by choice (in which case Charli has some work to do)!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. lorilschafer says:

    I really admire the distinction you’ve made here between what creates empathy and what results in the best course of action. It makes so much sense – we’re all more likely to care what happens to the poor person we know than to poor people in general. And although people acting together could make a real difference in that person’s life, it would do nothing to address the problem of poverty in general. Very interesting – I will definitely be giving that some thought.

    Liked by 1 person

    • TanGental says:

      I have Norah’s follower Bec – I think they’re related, maybe even mum and daughter!- to thank for helping me to that point and how it linked with the rest of my piece. I think a post by Yvonne Spence about the need to slow down, also made by Norah and one of her TED posts, makes sense too. Lots of interesting stuff amongst the fluff (not that I’m against fluff, mind). Thank you for taking the time to comment.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Great post.

    What hit me hardest, I think, was the part about individuals vs. groups. Statistically, if there is a “poster child” or “face of homelessness”, people are much more likely to respond than if it were a general plea for help. Is it because the “problem” (cancer, homelessness, et al.) becomes more real if we can see a person? Or do we get overwhelmed, thinking we can’t change the world but we can help that one cute kid with leukemia? Not sure. Interesting thoughts, though. Either way, we need empathy.

    Liked by 1 person

    • TanGental says:

      I’m guessing it’s the overwhelming nature of ‘I cannot fix this so I wont try’. That’s certainly why even general appeals are framed with a personal story attached. But how we deal with so many conflicting emotions is something we must keep on trying to resolve

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Yvonne says:

    Very interesting post Geoff. The information about group size is fascinating, and makes me wonder why so many times people are coerced into bigger groups – such as in schools. My girls’ school is currently being rebuilt, and is currently divided between 2 campuses, which they love because it’s smaller and quieter, and are in no hurry to return to shiny new school. I’ve even read somewhere that the larger a Twitter following a person has, the lower the engagement.
    Of course, sometimes we do need to form bigger groups – like 1000 Voices!

    Your point about being more able to empathise with an individual is also thought-provoking. On the one hand, it’s good I think, because it does motivate us to take action, to feel able to take action actually (I see you’ve just made that point in the comment above me.) Your point about it then meaning resources might not then be allocated to those most in need is one that has sort of been in the back of mind for a while, but I hadn’t articulated it, so I’m glad you did! This is illustrated in Scotland just now by a young man who was recently diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease and has been fund-raising and calling for more trained nurses. He’s raised (or had donated to him) a huge amount of money and got the Scottish government to pledge the extra nurses. This is all wonderful, AND there are many other people with different but equally serious illnesses who continue to struggle on without that level of support.
    I don’t have an answer for how to resolve this either, and I’m not a lawyer! 🙂
    Thanks very much for joining in 1000 Voices and for spreading the word. (I recognise several names in the comments here as people whose posts I’ve read this weekend.)

    Liked by 1 person

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  13. JT Twissel says:

    Love this post, Geoff. If only we could breed more empathetic humans.

    Liked by 1 person

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