A Lack of Compassion Can Be as Vulgar as an Excess of Tears

source: zap2it.com

source: zap2it.com 

So says the Dowager on one of my favorite shows, “Downton Abbey.” Lady Violet delivered this line to her apparently unfeeling granddaughter, Lady Mary, just this week here in the U.S, with her usual dry nonchalance. She does that, Lady Violet: her sharp blue eyes and nothing-fazes-me demeanor belie her soft heart, kindness and universal knowledge of the inner workings of the world.

On “Downton,” Lady Violet’s off-the-cuff gems are almost a character unto themselves, and are as much a draw for me as the plot itself, but this line struck me more than her others.

At this point, Lady Mary, the cold granddaughter had displayed such selfish, unsympathetic behavior toward her sister, complete with eye rolls and nose in the air. “Ohmygd what a bitch!” I exclaimed in disbelief. Apparently Granny felt the same way, for it was then that she proffered the line of the night and shut Lady Mary, and me, up.

Her delivery was impeccable, of course, but it was her words themselves that echoed in my veins for the rest of the evening and week:

“My dear. A lack of compassion can be as vulgar as an excess of tears.”

I don’t agree that an excess of tears can be vulgar (I’ve come to appreciate how wonderfully fulfilling a good cry can be), but Lady Mary’s absence of kindness, sympathy, concern, empathy at the very least, was most definitely offensive to me.

As I go about my daily life, I don’t usually think about what compassion means, but Mary’s unappealing, indifferent manner and her grandmother’s not-so-gentle admonishment have been on my mind.


All this week, I have received texts from my mother updating me about her friend’s heart transplant. My mother lives in South Africa. Her friend is in Atlanta. They are almost 10,000 miles away from each other, but the distance means nothing to my mom whose texts from Monday to Wednesday read as if she is sitting next to him in ICU, watching him recover:

The heart is on its way. He is prepped and ready and they’ll begin when the heart arrives. Keep praying.

Procedure just started now. They said 7 hours.

The new heart was in at 1.22am my time. [He] came out of OR and went into ICU.

He’s awake. Doing well. Miracle. I’m so relieved but it’s the waiting to see if heart is accepted.

He’s eating softs foods! Able to get up for a bit. Amazing. Love and hugs to you all.

And finally, this one just a few minutes ago, today, Friday:

just waiting for today’s news 🙂

It is no wonder that my mother, who has spent weeks recovering from painful back and heart surgeries herself over the years, is so worried about her friend undergoing this enormous procedure. If they were in the same country, I have no doubt that she would be at his bedside all day, watching, caring, helping in person.

What is amazing to me is that even with the tremendous distance between them, her care and concern is so deep and so present it is palpable even to me, removed by more degrees of distance and separation. I know, with each beat of his new heart her dear friend feels every wave of compassion across the vast Atlantic, from her kitchen in Pretoria to his hospital bed in Atlanta.


As I received these texts from my mom this week, I thought what a shining example of warmth and kindness she would be to that cold, sleek, fish-like Lady Mary with her ramrod straight back and newly-coiffed bob.

I know it’s a TV show, but her apathy and unkindness stem from reality. That she can’t even muster an “Oh shame” (the ultimate South African expression of sympathy and empathy) is abhorrent but not uncommon in a world where too many people feel alone, uncared for and forgotten.

Lady Violet uses her carefully chosen words to teach her granddaughter. And I learn from my own mother’s heartfelt words and her sincerest, deepest compassion.

I think the Dowager would agree with my mom: We are never too far away to care about each other.

This post is part of 1000Speak. Today, in honor of United Nations World Day of Social Justice (February 20), more than 1,000 bloggers all over the world are writing about compassion. 1000Speak started with an understanding that all creatures, at every stage of life, need the kindness and compassion of others. The movement has taken on its own life, and is spreading  a whole lot of love and connection. Join us – together we’re stronger!

Spread the love using the hashtag #1000Speak

Join the 1000 Voices Speak for Compassion group on Facebook.


29 thoughts on “A Lack of Compassion Can Be as Vulgar as an Excess of Tears

  1. Oh, Nicki, I also am a huge fan of the Dowager and that particular line struck me too. Mary’s behavior is intolerable, but I believe it is a comment on certain individuals in our society – too self centered to acknowledge another’s pain.

    I love the story of friendship between your mother and her friend. Hope they both recover soon.

    Love this post, Nicki. xo

    Liked by 1 person

    • It was so difficult to watch Mary in that episode and of course you are right: it’s not impossible to imagine people behaving that way in real life.

      Thank you for the love and good wishes, dear Rudri xo


  2. I’m one of the handful of people who don’t watch Downton Abbey, but the Dowager seems to know what she’s talking about! Keeping your mother’s friends in my prayers, Nicki. And it doesn’t surprise me at all to learn what a compassionate and dear friend your mother is – you had to get your awesomeness from someone!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Ok so I’ve never watched Downton Abbey – should I start? I mean knowing how much I’ve missed??? I love the quote and will keep your mom’s friend in my prayers. A new heart. Can you imagine? I’m so happy you brought your lovely words and mind and spirit to support #1000Speak, Nicki. So so much love to you my fabulous friend!

    Liked by 1 person

    • YES YOU SHOULD START DOWNTON! Start from the beginning. Take it slow. It’s so worth it. Especially for Maggie Smith’s one-liners.
      Oh Kristi, I’ve been thinking so much about the new heart and what an incredible things that is. I really can’t imagine… can you? After I had already published this, my mom texted that he was up and eating soft foods. I mean… WOW! And she was feeling so thankful for our amazing technology so she could be in touch and even see him. And look at this wonderful movement of love and care we’re a part of, thanks to technology and beautiful, kind hearts. Thank you for being a host, and for all the compassion you put into the world. Love right back to you!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Even if Granny’s picture hadn’t been in that thumbnail for the post I would have recognized that title. I think I might have high fived the air when she said it. I love how you put your post together to tie the end to the beginning. And I love those texts like your mom was right there. Praying for the speedy recovery of her friend.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Ma. You have always been a great teacher of care and compassion, and you continue to show me that it doesn’t stop just because we all live far away from each other xxx


  5. Downton Abbey just doesn’t quite strike my fancy, but, I will respectfully acknowledge Maggie Smith’s distinguished career, as I can picture her saying these words, even though I’ve never watched the show.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. What a fun way to combine DA with the topic! I also found myself sympathetic with how your Mom is connecting to her friend through technology. We can use the new connectedness to enhance compassion, even though technology can also keep us apart. It would an interesting post to explore how compassion has been affected in the Internet age — maybe someone has already written a post on this! #1000Speaks.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Throughout this ordeal, my mom keeps saying: thank goodness for technology! I agree that even thought it brings the world closer, it does add a strange layer of disconnect as well. It would be an interesting post, Anna.
      #1000Speak is the epitome of wonderful connected compassion in the information age!


  7. Of course you love Downton and Granny. I would have thought nothing less. She is a gem isn’t she? “What is a ‘Week End?” “One feels as if one’s on the stage…” – her reaction to electricity… But do make me stop or I’ll natter on for hours and get nothing done.
    Didn’t see it this Sunday as I was away. So am looking forward to the two hours next week when the local station plays last week’s and then this week’s.
    Love how connected you are with your mom. Social media lets me keep in constant touch with my two. I suspect I know more about their daily lives that I would if we were sharing a house.
    Sending continued healing wishes to your Mom’s friend.

    Liked by 1 person

    • How about: “Thinking is overrated. Nobody thought before the war” (or something like that)?
      Thank you for the good wishes. He is doing so well! Along with technology, modern medicine is another marvel.
      Enjoy your two hours of Downton this week, dear Kelly! Sounds perfect 🙂


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