Custom License Plates and the Balance Between Compassion and Self-Interest
I just did something I never thought I would do: ordered custom license plates. For years I’ve cringed every time time I saw someone proclaiming their name, profession, favorite sports team, or credo on their automobile. Advertising yourself to strangers in this way has always seemed too self-indulgent to me. I can’t imagine that strangers are interested in who I am, what I do for a living, my hobbies, or who I root for, and frankly, I am not that interested in telling them.
I’m pretty extreme about things likes this. My distaste for publishing myself to the world extends to bumper stickers, tee shirts with writing, and political signs (although I do still have my fading Obama tee shirt from 2008). I won’t let people people doing work on my house put a sign on my lawn, and hated the realtors sign in front of my house when it was for sale — but desperate times require desperate measures and I am now driving around with license plates that read “CMPSSION”.
Almost everybody immediately recognizes this forced abbreviation for the word Compassion ( My first thought was to get “EMPATHY” but every recognizable permutation of this word was already taken). I think most people have have a good idea of why I’ve chosen this moment to put that message out there. I’m not fooling myself. I know that I am not naturally an overly compassionate person, but I do see the value in striving to be one.
To be a relatively ethical human I need the ability to care about others and imagine how they feel. These qualities can balance out my drive to protect myself and my family, to enjoy my possessions and be proud of my accomplishments. When I am at my best, they are the qualities that make me consider the cost to the world before I do something for the benefit of myself, my family, my team, my country, my gender, or my racial group.
I’ve consciously battled to maintain this balance in myself for a long time, but I’ve never before felt such a desperate need to convince strangers that they should be doing the same. Right now, the lack of this balance is reflected in the horrifying actions of many of the most powerful people in government, business, and society, but its not just the people in the news. Too many of those who I come in to contact with every day — people who I otherwise like and respect — seem blind and uncaring when they become frightened of losing an advantage, or privilege they are accustomed to.
- Compassion could help people think twice before they harass or demean others at work.
- Compassion could open the door to addressing the racial and socioeconomic inequalities in our education system.
- Compassion could facilitate equal pay and opportunity for all genders, and tolerance and equality across sexual orientation.
- Compassion could reduce the proliferation of “me too” incidents
- Compassion for victims could ensure that a wealthy young man convicted of rape gets more than six months in jail
- Compassion could lead us to provide a reasonable living wage to anyone who works.
- Compassion could ensure access to health care for all.
Its going to take a lot of change to get there, so in my own small way, I am trying new things, like getting customized license plates. Who knows, maybe next I’ll get a tattoo.