Barbara Ascher’s essay On Compassion give a valuable insight into the human condition and how it influences the way we treat other or more importantly how we mistreat others and why we do it. One of the major themes in the essay was that empathy is the building block to true compassion and that if we first establish empathy, then we can begin to grow as a society and foster a new generation of more tolerant and accepting than the current one.
Another major point in the essay was the why do we perform selfless deeds is it a moral obligation, pity, compassion, a false face to fit in with others in society or is it because of fear or simply a gesture of appeasement. Ascher’s purpose is to awaken a sense of empathy in her fellow humans and does so successfully by using a series of poignant rhetorical questions as well as a juxtaposition to conclude her essay and further prove her point.
Ascher backs up her essay with a myriad of rhetorical devices, such as ethos, juxtaposition, and rhetorical questions. Ascher appeals to ethos by using a first person narrative in some spots, which builds up her character as well as her credibility. She writes the first half of the essay is in a 3rd person point-of-view and then in the second half she suddenly switches to 1st person, which created an unexpected effect that increased her ethos to the audience.
Another concept that Ascher transcended is the way she used of rhetorical questions in her essay. Her rhetorical questions are both poignant and ambivalent and expertly show the nature of human indecisiveness. Ascher also uses juxtaposition where she compares Modern New York City to ancient Greece. In the comparison she states that drama taught the Greeks how to be compassionate by inspiring empathy in the audience, which, in turn reinforced their society. The main overreaching ideal of the essay was introduced in the last paragraph where Ascher relates the homeless’ plight to the drama of ancient Greece and the fact that they remind us of our common humanity and that we are all equal.
Ascher finds it necessary to tell this story because she feels the need to bridge the gulf that has widened between the different socioeconomic classes of New York, but if she can’t help all by herself so she writes this essay to show us our ignorance through a medium that we all understand.