Compassionate vs. Productive

Note from Fluvial:  This is a tricky post for me to write because I want to make sure the words I say are true reflections of what’s going on in my head.  It’s a complicated topic for me and, I assume, lots of other people so please be patient as a I revise this post for a few days to come.  I recently met someone who’s challenged me (without knowing it) to rethink the reasons why I believe what I believe and dive a little deeper to see if anything has matured since I had my major tectonic shift of self way back when…  This is the first of a series.

I’ve always had a drive in me to do well and have struggled with the ‘need’ to be perfect in everything I do.  I’m not sure if this stems from being an only child or some sort of childhood anxiety that entrenched itself in my consciousness and stayed with me into adulthood or what but needless to say…I learned sometime in my late teens and early 20’s that sometimes the more you try to be perfect, the more not-perfect you become.  Back then, that was unacceptable.  Perfection for me meant socially accepted output.  Good grades, fantastic resume, 401k, etc.  People, I was 19 years old.  What was I thinking?!

I spent the majority of my freshman and sophomore years of college miserable.  Suffering from depression that was debilitating and fast acting.  Struggling to find my place at a large university, struggling to keep my Christian faith in tact, and trying so very hard to please everyone and be perfect.

And so, like any normal person, I ran away to the Grand Canyon! (What?  That’s not normal?)  It was there that one of my classmates said something truly profound:  “My goal is to be a compassionate member of society; not necessarily solely a productive member of society.”


This was nearly 8 years ago and that sentence has never left me.   At the time, I’m not even sure it fully registered with me what she was talking about (Hi Bonnie!) but as I grew and changed throughout that 14 month experience, it kept sneaking back into my thoughts and began to trickle into my soul.  I remember clearly sitting on the end of the Canyon with dirt under my nails, sore muscles, with only the sound of the wind distracting me and thinking ‘This is my Church’.  

Ah, the relief!!  Being able to relax and know that the earth will still spin even if I’m not perfect. 

So how does this related to compassion vs. productivity.  I’m getting to that…

Simply this:  hearing that sentence and letting it marinate in my brain  shifted my focus away from the typical western religious social narrative that’s so pervasive in our culture.  The idea that a person’s sole worth and merit is determined by the things they achieve, output, what have you.   Instead, I’ve tried my darndest to foster an attitude of compassion towards people and live my life with empathy and compassion.  (not always successfully but I try!)

What do you think would happen if our culture shifted as well?  What is a person’s merit was based on how they treated people instead of what they produced?  Is there a way to have both compassion and productivity?

I’m curious to hear your thoughts.


~ by fluvial on April 6, 2011.

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