A little compassion goes a long way

A couple of weeks ago, Michael Bullerdick, a white male, became managing editor of Essence magazine. The blogosphere went wild, with critics wondering whether he could represent the interests and views of the magazine's African-American, female audience. Journalist Danielle Wright wondered whether a middle-age white guy would be able "to suggest topics that have been affecting the community for years?" Could he "reminisce or relate to the stories of historic Black women who overcame struggles and portray them accurately, and make suggestions to ensure that the story is told through a relatable voice?" Would he "manage pitches to ensure they won't offend [the magazine's] African-American, woman audience?" All that remains to be seen. But it reminds me of a similar argument I heard when I became CURE's managing editor: how could I possibly manage a magazine that prides itself on being a strong voice for, and to, cancer patients, caregivers and survivors when I've never had cancer?Many years ago, as part of my preparation for ministry, I served as a chaplain at a drug and alcohol rehab center. As I would conduct group sessions, I often heard, "You don't know what it's like because you're not an alcoholic," or "You can't possibly understand because you're not an addict." My supervisor helped me to see that these diversionary tactics were simply ways to avoid talking about the real issues.Here at CURE, we've seen some heated debate on our Facebook page about whether people who've never had a particular type of cancer can possibly know what it's like. Perhaps not. But I detect a lot of compassion in those posts.The word "compassion" comes from the Latin for "co-suffering," literally, "to suffer together with." Compassion is an essential component in all the world's great religions. Arthur Jersild said compassion is "the ultimate and most meaningful embodiment of emotional maturity."Whether we're talking about a middle-age white guy editing a magazine for African-American women or someone who's never had a drinking problem helping alcoholics, the litmus test ought to be the emotional maturity to connect with people as they are.