Anyone who did not see Diane Sawyer's masterful two hour interview with Bruce Jenner on ABC television recently missed a Master Class on philosophical anthropology, psychology, and ethics. Jenner's evident intelligence, sincerity, and sensitivity to the big issues surrounding his lifelong struggle with gender issues helped to make the show instructive in ways I had not anticipated.
For anyone who missed the show, and who has not had the chance to glance at the cover of almost any magazine recently, the former Olympic great and Decathalon gold medalist, once declared "the greatest athlete alive," has revealed that he's had a lifetime struggle with gender identification. Born, of course, with the body of a man, he says that he has since childhood felt like a girl, and then a woman, in perspectives, thoughts, and interests. He sought to make clear that he is not homosexual, or gay. What he's experienced is different from that. He has been married three times and has fathered several children. He has loved his wives.
One thing the interview made clear was that gender is a more complex issue than most people assume. Anatomy doesn't necessarily confer it. As in most things, the world is a more rich and complicated place than we often give it credit for being. I initially watched the interview out of curiosity, and came away with a deep sense of compassion, not just for what this one individual has been through, and is likely to go through, still, but for all of our brothers and sisters who are misunderstood in any way, and feel forced by social pressure to pretend to be something they're not, something that's not authentic, along any deep dimension in their lives. It brought home to me in a new way the power of the emphasis in eastern philosophies on compassion for all creatures, and wonder in the presence of the real.
When we understand the New Testament emphasis that "God is love," and grasp the profound empathy that real love embodies, we can approach issues like this with a new heart and a new wisdom. Despite the fact that these revelations have come out amidst the flamboyant media circus that is everything Kardashian, we, in a sense, have that whole spectacle to thank for providing such a public stage and forum for this issue to be raised - not only of gender identification, but of the need for compassion in all things.
In our complex world, a few things are simple. One of them is compassion.