Compassion in 19th Century England and Today

1000speak

Today, 20th February, bloggers are taking part in the 1000 Voices for Compassion initiative, by blogging on the topic of compassion. Have a look at #1000Speak on twitter to read more about what other bloggers are writing about compassion in our lives today.

I’ve been thinking about compassion over the last two centuries, and how the concept has evolved, and finally what it means to me in my daily life.

There was little in the way of social security in the Georgian or Victorian era. In fact, the orphans, homeless, and unemployed of the time, were in danger of losing their health and their lives, by literally dying of cold and starvation. Another option was stealing, which they often inevitably had to indulge in, and could lead them to prison or the workhouse. Another option, especially for women, was prostitution, which would most often be a protracted death sentence.

 

NPG P301(19),Charles Dickens,by (George) Herbert Watkins

Dickens at his desk, 1858, by George Herbert Watkins

 

Compassion was the only option. Families, friends, neighbours, and generous and compassionate people had to be understanding, feel empathy, and assist those in need.

There are plenty of literary examples in fiction in novels many by Charles Dickens (Bleak House, Oliver Twist), Elizabeth Gaskell (Mary Barton, North and South), and Charlotte Bronte (Jane Eyre).

Other international authors such as Emile Zola, Balzac, Tolstoy, and Mark Twain, were also writing novels based on social issues.

There are also history books which sadly confirm these fictional accounts such as: Ideas of Childhood in Victorian Children’s Fiction: Orphans, Outcasts and Rebels  The Workhouse  Social issues in Victorian England

Nowadays we take the welfare state for granted. The social benefits we all share in Europe, by giving into the system through our taxes, and later redistributing it back into the system, with unemployment benefits, pensions, national health system, education system, etc., have greatly improved the quality of our lives.

This does not mean the system is perfect, or that we can shrug off our responsibility by saying, ‘I pay my taxes, I don’t need to be compassionate.’

So many people in the world, even in our own, developed countries, are experiencing the harshness of the economic recession. We cannot close our eyes to the severe social deprivation and injustices happening around the world. On the other hand, we cannot solve all the world’s problems.

But we can all do something which can help to make the world a better place. If we each do a little, we’ll all do a lot. In Spain people say, if we each add a grain of sand, we’ll all build a mountain.

 

1024px-Libya_4608_Idehan_Ubari_Dunes_Luca_Galuzzi_2007

 

Everyone needs to be compassionate, and everyone will be in need of compassion at some time.

The great thing about compassion is that you don’t need to go out of your way to be compassionate. It’s not something you have to do outside your daily life, because compassion is part of our lives.

I’m fortunate to be able to help many people every day in my job. I help adults who didn’t finish school, to get their secondary school-leaving certificates and learn some basic English. I also help others who have completed their Secondary education to pass their university entrance exams and improve their English, and thus their job prospects.

First I need to walk in their shoes, and then I need to help them reach their goals. None of them have had, or have, easy lives. Many are unemployed, have very low self-esteem, or serious learning difficulties.

It’s my job to teach them, but it’s my vocation to be compassionate, encouraging and caring.

We’ll all need compassion at some moment in our lives. We’ll all need a compassionate doctor, teacher, friend, colleague, etc., If we each care for those near us who need some, hopefully someone will also care for us, when our turn comes.

13 thoughts on “Compassion in 19th Century England and Today

  1. Nowadays we take the welfare state for granted.

    Not me. I crashed out of university (they slapdashed me a degree and pushed me out the door) and slogged through welfare-to-work programs before coming down to disability benefits. I was ridiculed and pressured most of the way, if not all of it. From that social worker who spun 180 from “Are you going to accept the Jiffy Pop things in your life?” for months to “Oh no, you’re on psych meds? We need to get you on Social Security!” at the bitter end, to the psychological expert who tore me a new poop chute over the phone at my disability determination final hearing, I assure you that stigma and prejudiced attitudes still endure.

    Like

      1. You’re quite welcome. I’ve been reading up on one of the sites about English workhouses in the link you provided. I’ve found it to be a great historical perspective, given I knew little beyond Oliver Twist and Charles Dickens’ writings. I also should have realized Charlie Chaplin had personal experience with them as well. Thank you too.

        Liked by 1 person

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