Posted by: ourvoicestogether | September 24, 2007

Iraq Vet Sean Lutmer Casts A New Eye On Compassion In This Award-Winning Essay

Iraq Vet Sean Lutmer Casts A New Eye On Compassion In This Award-Winning EssayThe University of Texas-Tyler held an essay contest in anticipation of the Safer, More Compassionate World forum that was held on September 11, 2007. Below is the text, reprinted with permission, from the winner of the contest, Sean Lutmer:

Making a Safer, More Compassionate World

Compassion begins with the understanding of self and is followed by the necessary understanding of someone else’s experiences. Perhaps the hardest aspect of compassion for us in the United States, and perhaps the most hidden, is that we have great difficulty understanding the lives of people in other countries. We have so many more resources, opportunities, and freedoms that we have difficulty understanding how the rest of the world lives. We want to be compassionate but we are often at a loss where to begin. Compassion doesn’t come from pity or guilt. To feel compassion, the longing to relieve someone else’s pain and suffering, we must ourselves have a glimpse at what they are going through and that common understanding will drive us to love and work for the betterment of that person.

The path toward compassion is difficult and challenging in our everyday lives. If we are to understand each other so that we may empathize with another’s situation; if we want to alleviate the pain another person feels; if we want to truly help others for their sakes and not ours; we are required to give of ourselves freely. As Henry David Thoreau said, “None can be an impartial or wise observer of human life but from the vantage ground of what we should call voluntary poverty.” I experienced this understanding of “voluntary poverty” when I had the chance to serve in Iraq.

I was in charge of putting on an educational program in celebration of Native American Month. I located a few individuals that came from a reservation in Arizona and asked them to speak about their lives as Native Americans. One individual really touched me with her compassion and wisdom. She spoke of her life raising sheep in Arizona on the reservation as her family tradition. We were offered a glimpse of what she did on a daily basis that allowed us to see the tremendous struggles the reservation had for her people. But what really opened my eyes was how similar her life was to those in southern Iraq. As my unit drove through the Southern Iraq area, we had often noticed the sheepherders out taking care of their flocks and we were often forced to slow down as they were on the side of the road. The speaker spoke of the connection and commonalities between the people she grew up with in Arizona and the daily struggles experienced by the common farmer in southern Iraq. She spoke of compassion for those who had a similar life to her own even though she was in the midst of a terrible conflict with those very people. She understood the sheepherders there in Iraq the same as if they were her friends and family in Arizona. She taught me to look at others with an understanding eye, feeling as they do, and help because I know what it feels to be in their place.

For all of my travel and education, I have had to work at understanding the very basic struggles of people, especially those throughout the world who often have so little. As I have been able to learn and experience what others experience, I have learned compassion comes from within. It is compassion born not of pity nor of obligation; it is born out of love and understanding that compels me to serve others knowing that regardless of race, religion, or nationality, we are all just sheepherders.



  1. Hello

    What do you think about this? When it happens?

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