If you have read more than one of my previous essays, then you know that I frequently play “what if?” For instance, what if time travel were a reality? Where might I want to go, and who would I want to meet? Or what if there were seven modern deadly sins to counterbalance the seven traditional deadly sins? In that particular exercise, I included smirking, whining and procrastination, among others, as modern deadly sins.
So, here is another “what if”: “What if there were a national day of mercy?” What might that look like and what kinds of activities might take place on such a day? First, to be truly merciful is something that requires practice. Karen Armstrong, in her book Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life, says that compassion is a practically acquired knowledge, like dancing. You must practice diligently day by day. Mercy is a close cousin to compassion with the added component of a degree of authority or control being present with one person, with one having some degree of power over the other. So, like compassion, mercy takes some practice too. So maybe on the national day of mercy, we would have an opportunity to practice mindful acts of mercy, get a good grasp on how that feels.
With a bit of brainstorming you could think of any number of things that could take place. Parents might practice mercy when punishing their children for unruly behavior. You might be more apt to smile and say a kind word to a store clerk, the young man who bags your groceries, or smile at a fast food worker as you whiz through the drive-thru at Taco Bell or Burger King. Maybe you would leave a bigger tip for a waitress or waiter at your favorite fine dining venue.
That’s just for starters. Maybe state troopers and traffic cops would give out more verbal warnings and fewer citations. Maybe judges and juries in court cases would award, or consider awarding, more lenient sentences. Maybe governors would stay executions. Maybe there would be no evictions from housing and apartments, or no bank foreclosures. Maybe debt collectors would take a day off from those nasty phone calls threatening to send out a big dog to bite your ankle if you don’t pay up within ten days. Maybe you would participate in a peaceful demonstration for a cause you believe in. If your job involves supervising or managing the work of others, maybe you would be kinder in the way you explain to an employee how you need behavior to change in order to improve work performance. If it is within their power, maybe some bosses would let employees leave a couple hours early in order to get a jump on traffic. Maybe you would buy two boxes of Girl Scout cookies instead of one, when you see a young Girl Scout standing outside a super market entrance. Of course, you would give the second box away, rather than eat both boxes yourself. At animal shelters, maybe there would be no euthanasia procedures performed on the National Day of Mercy. Instead maybe a focused effort would be placed on finding foster homes and adoption placements on that day. Maybe you would volunteer at a homeless shelter or senior living facility, or be available to provide rides to doctor appointments. Maybe you would read to a person who has lost most of their sight to macular degeneration. Maybe you would do some grocery shopping for a home-bound person. Maybe you would sign up for a social action project in your community, like taking a training class to prepare for tutoring illiterates. Maybe you would join with others in sorting and donating clothing to a battered women’s shelter. Maybe you would be merciful to your pet for chewing your favorite shoes, or scratching the furniture. Or maybe you could just listen with empathy to a friend, coworker or family member who is going through a rough patch in their life.
Showing mercy doesn’t mean that on the national day of mercy you have to put on your Mother Teresa frock and pick up the suffering on skid row and take them home with you. But you could start with becoming mindful of how you could be more warm and kind to the materially and spiritually poor here in Orange County, and with attaching real human faces to the concept of the worth and dignity of every person.
We’ve had Taco Tuesday and Throwback Thursday for years now, along with Wednesday as “Hump Day,” so maybe you could add Merciful Monday to the mix. On Mondays, you would practice mindful merciful acts diligently, until they become part of your daily routine, as writer Karen Armstrong suggests. Mercy, what a concept – no, it’s not just for saints any more.