Counselor's Corner: Compassion and laws

Fred Cavaiani

Compassion comes before laws. Laws are made to increase positive connections with one another. We have street lights to make sure we don’t hurt one another and can continue positively on our journey. When a law is enforced without considering compassion both to the victim of a crime and even in some manner to the perpetrator of a crime everyone loses. To insist on the letter of the law in every circumstance is one of the great delusions of life. When the laws of a nation become more important than showing compassion toward the people who live among us we all become diminished. This article sounds a lot like my last article, but this fundamental principle of life needs to be understood and practiced. So this article goes a bit deeper than my last article. It is necessary to reflect again on compassion.

Laws are necessary. Compassion and care is even more necessary. To maximize rules and minimize compassion diminishes a country. The Nazi regime in Germany, the Fascist regime in Italy, and the Communist regimes in Russia and China are not regimes that stand as ideals. These regimes have been so regulated by laws without compassion and rules without empathy.

Life is never totally black or white. There is always a gray in every aspect of life. A successful government understands the grays in life. A successful family and marriage can see the grays in their marriage and family. It seems so easy to see everything in absolutes. I am right. You are wrong. I have the truth. You have no truth. I know what is right and wrong. You don’t know anything.

People in power can have a difficult time understanding the powerless. One of the most profound insights that happen to some people is when a tragedy happens to their family. A family member gets cancer. A family member dies. A financial tragedy falls upon a family. This can change a whole perspective of how to look at life.

Have you ever been so poor that you didn’t know where your next meal was coming from? Have you ever been so desperate that you felt the necessity to go to another country legally or illegally to support your family? This country was built on immigrants coming here to support their families who lived outside of the United States. Finally enough money was saved to bring their families here. It was a principle of survival. Most of us can tell stories like this about parents, grandparents, great grandparents.

When compassion is our first priority and when we treat people with compassion, we send out a message to the whole world: The United States is built upon compassion and freedom for all. Freedom follows compassion. Resentment and negativity follows rigid rules.

Have you ever met a family that was built only on rigid rules and enforcement of rules but lacking in compassion or empathy toward the children in the family? You will usually get resentful and hurting children who can easily become rigid and condemning toward others. The other result of rigidity and rules without compassion is to get very frightened and insecure children who become frightened and insecure adults. They will seek someone authoritative to control their lives.

Healthy people can see two sides of each situation. Healthy people put compassion and empathy before rules and regulations. They understand that laws are to help us stay caring and compassionate. When people are not acting caring or compassionate toward others by committing crimes of personal violations of others, they need to be stopped and checked. Yet still people like this need to be looked at with understanding and compassion and laws must respect the dignity of each person also. Prisons and punishments are necessary. But compassion and understanding must also be present. Without compassion and understanding we create the atmosphere for more hatred and resentments to multiply inside those who have transgressed our laws.

Have you ever been around someone who was lacking in compassion toward you? They were only concerned on how well you obeyed the laws. There was no concern or understanding for you as a person. Have you ever had a teacher who only worried about his or her rules of the classroom but not so much concerned about what was being taught? Have you ever listened to a priest or minister who was only concerned about sin and punishment? Did that give you a positive attitude about a loving God? Did it motivate you to feel good about God? Laws and Rules and Consequences for breaking laws are always necessary in any society. But when these laws have no compassion for the individual and cannot see the gray areas and the exceptions in individual cases, everyone suffers.

We are now caught up in an atmosphere of rules and regulations that tell the world we are no longer a compassionate, giving country. We are sending a message to the world and to our citizens that laws and punishments are more important than compassion and empathy. We are beginning live in an atmosphere of mistrust and fear. If you look too brown or too black or have an accent, be careful. If you look a bit ragged around the edges and appear to be Latin American or Muslim, look out. Imagine what it must be like to feel like a minority just from how you look or speak.

Just today as I was pulling up to a store where I had to quickly run in a pick up some mail, a man walked in front of my car which was illegally parked in front of the store. I almost hit him. I was in the wrong. He went into the same store I was entering. I quickly apologized for my errant behavior. He let me know how wrong I was which was his right and I apologized again. He then said, “I accept your apology.” He had some compassion toward me because I had some compassion toward him. This could have turned into a shouting match if neither of us would have looked at the total person of the other. My apology disarmed him. His accepting my apology helped me look at my errant behavior much more deeply. I will never park temporarily in front of a store leaving my car running while I quickly run into the store for two minutes. I was very wrong. But a full blown argument and criticism wouldn’t have helped me look at my behavior.

I can change the world into a more compassionate world by putting care and compassion into every minute of my day and every interaction I have with another person. Love and compassion will overcome fear and mistrust and rigid rules devoid of compassion and understanding.


Fred Cavaiani is a licensed marriage counselor and psychologist with a private practice in Troy. He is the founder of Marriage Growth Center, a consultant for the Detroit Medical Center, and conducts numerous programs for groups throughout Southeast Michigan. His column in the Legal News runs every other Tuesday. He can be reached at 248-362-3340. His e-mail address is: Fredcavi@ and his website is