Are people born with a complete quandary when it comes to compassion or is it something that has always been there? Barbara Lazear Ascher, born in 1946, writes, “On Compassion.” Having lived in New York City, Ascher is able to take first hand examples from the city to show the affection people have towards each other. Ascher is able to illustrate that compassion is something that has to be taught because of the adversity at people’s heels by including tone, persuasive appeals, and the mode of comparing and contrast in her essay, “On Compassion.”
The tone of Ascher’s essay can best be described as thoughtful and reflective. Ascher is able to achieve this tone in her quote, “He wears a stained blanket pulled down to his gray, bushy eyebrows” (Ascher 47). Ascher embodies her quote with explicit diction. The words “stained” and “bushy” helps the audience better visualize this helpless man, and allows the audience to be emphatic for him. If Ascher was not reflective in her description of the needy people in her essay the audience would have failed to see what compelled these strangers to show compassion towards them in the first place. Ascher’s thoughtful and reflective tone can also be depicted in her simile, “Like a bridegroom waiting at the altar, his eyes pierce the white veil” (47). When Ascher compares the desperate man to a bridegroom, the audience, like a snap of a finger, is able to visualize a man in a plea for help. Ascher is thoughtful in describing this action. The simile helps enliven the readers view on the amount of compassion that is available to grant. One cannot just walk away from someone’s eyes “piercing” their soul in a cry for attention.
Compassion is learned when people see others in a hardship. Ascher appeals to ethos, pathos, and logos in her essay to portray the compassion that is being given. Ascher builds ethos in her essay by giving examples she witnessed herself. In her quote, “Twice I have witnessed this, and twice I have wondered, what compels this woman to feed this man?” (47), the readers are able to trust Ascher. She has not only witnessed this once, but TWICE she has seen this woman feed the man. The readers are able to trust that she witnessed these events herself because they are realistic events, and happen in everyday life.
Compassion is a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune. Ascher appeals to pathos in her essay in order to compel the readers to feel compassion towards the victims. She contributes to pathos in her quote, “The man’s grin is less the result of circumstance than dreams or madness” (46). The audience feels for this young man and the tough “circumstances” he is going through. The man is dressed so poorly that he is being mistaken as a mad man by the spectators. The readers instantly feel empathy for this man in the form of compassion. Ascher appeals to logos in order to define compassion in her quote, “For the ancient Greeks, drama taught and reinforced compassion within a society” (48). Ascher includes the real facts about the Greeks in her essay. When she includes these facts, it enables the readers to validate that compassion is something that is taught, whether it is through plays or having to see someone in a worse condition than they are, compassion is still attained.
Ascher utilizes examples in her essay, “On Compassion” to show the pity people are taking on the ones who are in a painstaking position. The author supplies her essay with the mode of comparing and contrasting in her quote,“The object of Greek tragedy was to inspire empathy in the audience so that the common response to the hero’s fall was: ‘There, but the grace of God, go I.’ Could it be that this was the response of the mother who offered the dollar, or the French woman who gave the food?” (48). She writes about the Greeks and how they mastered compassion through plays, and then compares it the mother who gave the dollar and the French woman who gave the food. Ascher includes rhetorical questions in her essay. The rhetorical questions draw attention to the audience. Ascher’s quote, “Pity? Care? Compassion?” (47), the audience connects to the strategy the Greeks used to enrich compassion into their society, and compares it today’s way of learning compassion. The audience instantly questions the way we are learning compassion today and wonder if it is as effective as the Greeks learning’s. When Ascher writes with the mode of comparing and contrasting she emphasizes the major change in compassion since the Greeks time era. The audience is able to grasp the tremendous change that has occurred. Compassion is still something that is being embedded in people’s minds today; it just is not through plays like the Greeks did for their people.
Compassion is learned when a homeless guy pleads for money or a hungry man is in search of food. One cannot simply walk by these needy people without feeling empathy for them and a need to assist them. Ascher writes “On Compassion,” and portrays the empathy strangers have towards one another by writing about events she experienced in the city. Ascher is able to enliven these examples and show the audience the compassion that is being learned by including tone, appeals to the audience, and the mode of comparing and contrasting. Compassion is within everybody, it is a quality that comes to light when people are a bystander to adversity.
Ascher, Barbara Lazear. “On Compassion.” 50 Essays: A Portable Anthology. Ed. Samuel Cohen. 3rd ed. Boston: Bedford/ St.Martin’s, 2011. 46-49. Print.