Why Compassion Can Change the World

Dear friend,

I think the one thing that can fix all the world’s problems would be compassion.

I. What is compassion?

Compassion means to feel the pain of someone else.

  • Com: With
  • Passion: Pain

To feel compassion for someone— to be with pain to the other.

For example, when they talk about the ‘passion of the Christ’ — it means that Jesus suffered insane amounts of pain on the cross (imagine having nails put through your wrists and ankles).

So in life, when we talk about following your ‘passion’ — it means following something that you believe in so deeply, that you’re willing to die for it.

II. True story.

Cindy’s Family in the relocation camp in the Philippines. Cindy’s mother is carrying her, her youngest child: Kim Anh.

Compassion in the world means to feel the pain and suffering of others.

For example, if you have real compassion for the poor — you know what the pain of the poor is. For example, I grew up in perpetual fear of becoming homeless (my dad gambled away the rent money), and it fucking sucked. So now, I strive hard to help the poor however I can — through giving away free information, and through trying to empower others.

Cindy’s family and neighbors celebrate our departure from the Philippines relocation camp to America

Cindy was a refugee — and so was her family. Cindy’s family risked their lives to flee war-torn Vietnam, to flee the oppressive government (who took away all the wealth of Cindy’s family, and forced them to become farmers). Cindy’s grandparents were tortured by corrupt government officials. Coming to America was a chance to escape pain, persecution, and potential death.


I can only imagine if Cindy’s family was refused by America. Then Cindy would have stayed in Vietnam. She wouldn’t have hustled through elementary school (she was raised on stories of a War-Torn Vietnam, and in the public American library), she wouldn’t have had the opportunity to excel in middle and high school (in high school she was a ‘Decathlon’ coach, and honors student), and eventually she ended up studying History at UCLA (and empowering her fellow students in her student tutoring program at Covel Commons), and she eventually ended up studying her Ph.D. at UC Berkeley — the premier public institution in America for History. Cindy wouldn’t have had the opportunity to study with the best professors and researchers and have the opportunity to expand and advance the understanding of Vietnam and its past.

Cindy’s mother and her Filipina American-language and culture instructor.

Without accepting refugees, America (and the world) wouldn’t have received the gift which is Cindy, her research in Vietnamese history, the hundreds of students she has taught, her contributions to art through her poetry and personal essays.

I wouldn’t have ever met her— and she is actually the one who encouraged me to start the Photo Club at UCLA.

Cindy’s family dressed in their best before their flight from the Philippines to America

She also encouraged me to start this blog (when I didn’t believe in myself). And if this blog never existed, all this free and empowering information on photography, art, philosophy, and life wouldn’t have existed (2,700+ blog posts, hundreds of free educational YouTube videos, 20+ free ebooks).

III. We need more skin in the game

To make politicians feel more compassion, we need to have them have more skin in the game (credit to Nassim Taleb). Having skin in the game allows others to feel pain, and therefore to feel compassion.

For example, if America wants to go to war, whoever is making these decisions needs at least one family member (blood related) who is going to put their life on the line (in the battle ground); not to just be sipping a frappucino at Starbucks while dropping bombs via a drone.

Or another example — no political or governmental figure should be allowed to prevent immigrants from entering the country, if they have at least 1 ancestor who once immigrated into America.

If immigrants weren’t allowed in this country, the world would have never had Steve Jobs (and therefore Apple). Steve Job’s dad was Syrian. The world wouldn’t have got Elon Musk (he came from South Africa). There are a million other ‘normal’ folks in America who came here from refugees or immigrant backgrounds. We need diversity in America to thrive. We need diversity in the world to thrive — together as humankind.

IV. Why we need diversity

‘Optimal’ health requires a diverse diet. Imagine — if you ate nothing but bread everyday (literally only bread and water) — imagine your health after a year. However, compare the diet of that individual with someone who has bread, olives, lamb, couscous, spinach, kale, pumpkin, quesedillas, and coffee to fortify their health. Of course the guy with a diverse diet will be a lot stronger.

Or consider animals. ‘Pure-bred’ dogs are often dumb, because there is tons of in-breeding. ‘Mutts’ (or mixed-heritage) dogs are much stronger, more resistant to disease, more intelligent, and sharper. The biological diversity of mixed-heritage (or you might consider— ‘mixed race’) dogs are much stronger.

If you remember elementary school biology classes— the flowers and plants that ‘cross-pollinated’ ended up being a lot stronger than plants that only breed with their own kind.

Society needs diversity to thrive.

We need diversity of thought, diversity of ideas, diversity of culture, and diversity of background. We need to mix all this diversity into one cultural melting pot, to create alchemic gold.

I know for myself, I am so blessed to have a diverse background. I grew up at age 12 in Queens, New York — one of the most ethnically diverse counties in America. My friends were the rainbow crew: Spencer was Spanish, Steven was Chinese, Aditya was Indian, Jonathan was Jewish, Christian was Brazilian, David was Korean, Eric G. was Italian, and I was (and still am) Korean. But we were all grown up on American individualistic values. We mixed, fused, and remixed our various cultural backgrounds— into this beautiful elixir.

For example, I am blessed to have this ‘entrepreneurial spirit’ of being American. I have insane amounts of self-confidence, and I can really give zero fucks about what others think of me. Whereas Korean culture teaches me to be meek and to shut the fuck up, Korean culture also teaches me to hustle hard in school (Confucian thought) — which helped me get into UCLA (thanks to my mom for pushing me forward), and helped me get an education — and helped me get to where I am today.

I also grew up Christian. I went to both protestant and Catholic churches growing up. This helped me gain a more holistic view of ‘God’ — and I ultimately chose to be Catholic— because my friends were all at my church (St. Andrew Kim in Oakland), and also because I wanted to focus on doing good deeds. To sacrifice myself for the collective like Jesus. To hustle for the greater good — not to just fill my pockets with gold.

V. Society thrives on diversity

All art thrives from diversity. Picasso x Cubism. Andy Warhol x Pop Art. Kanye West x Hip Hop music.

Hip hop was born out of a fusion between disco and jazz and the alternative rock.

America’s greatest $1 New York City pizza slice came from Italy— by Italian immigrants.

Great coffee in Australia (yes, Melbourne has the best coffee in the world [I’m sorry Sydney]) exists because of Italian immigrants.

Apple products (like the Zen-iPhone with only 1 button) came from Steve Job’s appreciation of Japanese-Zen aesthetics, and also the fact that the SF-Bay Area/Silicon Valley had a lot of hippies practicing Buddhism and dropping acid.

Elon Musk’s quest to save the world from self-destruction (and building electric cars in TESLA and rocket ships) is from his inspiration as a child reading The Hitchiker’s Guide, as well as the Lord of the Rings books. We wouldn’t have had Elon, Telsa, or SpaceX without diversity of ideas with these authors who wrote these books.

Even Henri Cartier-Bresson was inspired by Japanese and Zen philosophies. He read ‘Zen in the Art of Archery’ and applied his philosophy of street photography.

The ancient Romans gained inspiration from the (‘vulgar’ Greeks). The world has benefited from diversity of thought from philosophers like Karl Marx (German), Friedrich Nietzsche (German), Nassim Taleb (Lebanese), Voltaire (French), Seneca (Spanish-Roman).

America’s strength is principally in her diversity. If we discourage diversity, we are doomed to die an in-bred death.

What can I do?

To change the world, just be more compassionate. Some ideas:

  1. Say hello to a stranger: If you see someone working a shitty service-industry job, smile, make eye contact, and say hello. Maybe tip an extra dollar at the coffee shop. By putting yourself in their shoes, you will feel more patience, and love towards others.
  2. See everyone else as your brother or sister: We all have an annoying brother or sister or cousin we love but sometimes causes us to go crazy. But we are patient because they are family. If you treated everyone else like your family member— how much more love and patience would you have for them?
  3. Consider your own heritage: Culturally, we are all mixed and our common ancestor was from Africa. Culturally — how are you a ‘mutt’? As a Korean-American, I grew up on black culture, hip hop culture, Mexican culture, Korean culture — and Koreans descended from Mongolians (we share the same birth mark). Maybe get a genetics test to discover your ancestry.

If you first start off by changing yourself— then you can change the world.

Be strong,

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Kyoto, 2016

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