"But it's hard to explain, Mitch. Now that I'm suffering, I feel closer to people who suffer than I ever did before. The other night, on TV, I saw people in Bosnia running across the street, getting fired upon, killed, innocent victims… and I just started to cry. I feel their anguish as if it were my own." (8.22)
Morrie's heart is so filled with compassion that he is moved by things that he sees on the nightly news—things that happen to people somewhere else in the world. He's not saying that he understands exactly what they're going through, but he says that since he knows what suffering is firsthand, his heart goes out to them.
In light of this, my visits with Morrie felt like a cleansing rinse of human kindness. We talked about life and we talked about love. We talked about one of Morrie's favorite subjects, compassion, and why our society had such a shortage of it. (9.3)
Kindness and compassion are linked. For Mitch, it's refreshing to be around someone who cares so much about what other people are going through. Morrie is very concerned with how little people in society actually care about others and he thinks it's the root of many problems.
There was a momentary silence, and I'm not ever sure why I offered, but Morrie looked at Connie and said, "Can you show him how to do it?" (9.21)
Mitch, who at first felt uncomfortable even visiting Morrie, is now offering to help the nurse take care of him. He's learning compassion simply by being around somebody who is suffering, and now he wants to take a part in helping his friend, Morrie.
"Here's what I sent her back," Morrie told Koppel, perching his glasses gingerly on his nose and ears. "'Dear Barbara… I was very moved by your letter. I feel the work you have done with the children who have lost a parent is very important. I also lost a parent at an early age…'" (11.16)
One of the things that make Morrie so compassionate during these last months is that he's constantly reaching out to strangers who are suffering. Hundreds of people are sending in letters asking for responses to their suffering, asking to commiserate with Morrie's own suffering.
The bad news was, my brother did not want me around—not me, nor anyone in the family. [I was ripped with guilt for what I felt I should be doing for him and fueled with anger for his denying us the right to do it again. (14.52)
Because we have a natural desire to be compassionate, it's very damaging when those we love don't want our love and concern. Mitch is haunted by a sick brother who refuses to let him reach out to him, or even express how much he cares. This shows that there is something that we get out of being compassionate to others.
"It's become quite clear to me as I've been sick. If you don't have the support and love and caring and concern that you get from a family, you don't have much at all. Love is so supremely important. As our great poet Auden said, 'Love each other or perish.'" (14.8)
Love is connected to compassion. As his favorite quote by Auden states, being compassionate makes us human. Loving isn't a choice—we need to practice love in our lives just like we need oxygen to breathe.
"We should be looking at our potential, stretching ourselves into everything we can become. But if you're surrounded by people who say 'I want mine now,' you end up with a few people with everything and a military to keep the poor ones from rising up and stealing it." (21.28)
Compassionate people make for a good society, while selfish people, on the other hand, make for a really unfair world to live in. We all have a responsibility to help each other reach our potential so that the world can be a fair and honest place to live in.
"It's not just other people we need to forgive, Mitch," he finally whispered. We also need to forgive ourselves."
"Yes. For all the things we didn't do. All the things we should have done. You can't get stuck on the regrets of what should have happened. That doesn't help you when you get to where I am." (23.17-19)
Morrie is sharing a story with Mitch about a friendship of his own that ended badly because he held a grudge. There are two morals to this story: (1) You've got to forgive people because refusing to forgive is refusing to love; and (2) you've got to forgive yourself no matter what. Hating yourself for something that you aren't able to fix is just destructive.
It was another of the things I had watched his helpers do for months, and now, in an attempt to hold on to what I could of him, I had volunteered to do it myself. […] Also, of course, Morrie liked being held and touched. And at this point, anything I could do to make him happy, I was going to do. (23.3)
Mitch is massaging Morrie's ankles to help relieve his pain. His love for Morrie has moved him to acts of compassion, and his way of showing his love for his friend is through small acts of kindness. We know that he's not one for words like Morrie is, so show he shows that he cares in different ways.
"In business, people negotiate to win. They negotiate to get what they want. Maybe you're too used to that. Love is different. Love is when you are as concerned about someone else's situation as you are about your own." (24.58)
Morrie defines compassion as caring about other people just as much as you'd care about yourself. This is totally different from doing business, where you try to get the most out of the situation for your own benefit. The sad thing is that most people live their lives like they're working at a job, trying to gain something from others rather than giving selflessly.