Compassion -- What languages say. LO24262

From: AM de Lange (
Date: 03/29/00

Dear Organlearners,

Greetings to you all.

I belong to the denomination NGK (Nederduits Gereformeerde Kerk -- "low
german reformed church"). The NGK was the "official church" of the
government during the apartheid era since it was the biggest denomination
among white people. The NGK gave the government the "theological
justification" for their ideology and policy of apartheid. The language
spoken in the NGK is my mother tongue Afrikaans.

Now, in the aftermath of apartheid, members of the NGK have to
(1) seek the truth on apartheid and its consequences
(2) seek reconcillation with the victims of apartheid
(3) rethink the concept of spirituality and the role of
     compassion in it.

The word compassion in English means etymologically via
Latin: "com-"=together, "patior"=suffer. Its literal equivalent
in Afrikaans is "medelye" where "mede-"=together and
"lye"=suffering. Yet the Afrikaans word for compassion is
not merely "medelye", but actually "deernis". Its literal
equivalent in English would be "dearness". However , the
meaning of "deernis" to us, like in Dutch is far stronger than
the meaning of the literal equivalent "dearness" or the meaning
of "medelye" (compassion).

This "deernis" is a most unusual word coming from great antiquity.
It occurs in most of the Low Germanic languages like Saxon,
Frankonish, Frisian, Jutish. Yet its etymological meaning in these
old languages is difficult to trace so that several linguists think of
it as a rather isolated word retained from great antiquity. But it has
survived and is now still used in modern Dutch and Afrikaans as
"deernis". It means an "innige" (earnest, deep) "medelye"
(sympathy, compassion) with any "terugvalling" (relapses,
destructive immergences) of a "medemens" (fellow human) in
need of "liefdevolle sorg" (loving care).

Its etymology points to two main origins. Firstly, the "deer" may
mean as in the English "dear" =most-valuable. More than two
millenia ago the meat of wild animals called "dear" was most
valuable to the protein starved Low German nations as they were
wandering north-westwards, not having reached the Northern Sea
with its rich protein source in fish. The "-nis" in this case is like
the English suffix "-ness" which indicates "prerequisite condition"
or "abstract quality". It is related to the word "nest" such as the
protective homes made by birds to care for their young. Thus
"deernis" may have had the original meaning of providing a most
valuable place of care.

Secondly, the "deer" may come from an ancient word "deren"
which means "damaging detrimentally". The English language
had the verb "dere" for this meaning, but it became obsolete
in the 16th century as a result of the Enlightenment. The only
remainder of it in modern Englsih is the predicate "dire". The
"-nis" in this case is not a suffix, but another verb "nesse" which
means "to soften". The English language even had the equivalent
verb "nesh", but it also became obsolete in the 16th century.
Thus "deernis" may also have had the original meaning of
softening the hurt caused by detrimental damages.

Whatever the meaning ("valuable care" or "softening hurt") of
"deernis", many people who tried to upheld the ideology and
policy of apartheid, even for good and lofty reasons, gradually
became insensitive and even ignorant to "deernis". The discovery
of this insensitation was a great shock to those people who
actually tried to upheld apartheid honestly as true and good.
The shock was great because they could not foresee and still
cannot understand how apartheid caused this insensitation.

Wholeness is one of the seven essentialities required for any
bifurcation to result in an emergence rather than an immergence.
The basic premiss in apartheid is that wholeness is not
prerequisite to any development or evolution. The emergence
of "deernis" is into the higest order of love-agape. Since it is
an emergence into the highest order, it has to be backed up
by a complex nework of emergences in lower orders. In each
of these emergence a "sufficient age" of wholeness is required.
The SYSTEMATICAL denial of wholeness as essential to
development (evolution) will seriously impair wholeness in one
or more of the lower levels. Consequently "deernis" cannot
emerge any more. Even worse, previous emergent "deernis"s
will gradually immerge ablatively, causing the insensitation to
"deernis" -- "deep compassion"

Likewise we can expect that a SYSTEMATICAL denial of any
one of the other six essentialities will also cause an
insensitation and eventually ignorance to "deernis" -- "deep

Let me go back where I began -- the NGK denomination and
8 years after the dismanteling of apartheid in 1992. Two weeks
ago I have been to a synodial conference of the NGK on
Reconcilliation and Poverty -- two very important issues now in
South Africa. What struck me as most extraordinary is how
some participants to the conference
(1) struggled to express "deernis" with these two issues, and
(2) were ignorant to wholeness in their contributions.
They honestly want to get rid of apartheid in their lives, yet they
remain ignorant to wholeness and even become antagonistic
to it when it becomes discussed.

Jan Smuts (1926, Holism and Evolution) also experienced how
many people became antagonistic to the idea that wholeness
is essential to evolution despite his joy that some people found
it invaluable in their own lives. He experienced this antagonism
all over the world, but it was worst among his own people (the
Afrikaners). He had foreseen many things, for example, the
coming of WWII in the early twenties as a result of the lack of
compassion in the Treaty of Versailles after WWI. But strangely
enough, he had not foreseen the CERTAIN coming of apartheid
as a SYSTEM (1948) until it was too late, i.e, after WWII (1945).
He grieved over the increasing lack of compassion among his
people when compared to his earlier experiences in the first two
decades of the century after the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902).
But even this grief was not suffcient. Why?

I think that languages will give us some light on this answer.
The suffix "-ness" in XYZ-ness like whole-ness tells us that
XYZ is a "prerequisite condition" or an "abstract quality" with
immense power for evolution in all walks of life. Jan Smuts was
deeply under the impression that the "whole" of wholeness
had this immense power on evolution. He even called it the
actual power driving evolution, thus diverging dramatically from
previous theories of evolution (Lamarck, Darwin). This makes
him as one of the greatest thinkers of all time as even Einstein
had observed.

But perhaps Jan Smuts, affectionally called "Oubaas" by his
own people, did not think deep enough on the power of languages.
It was his compatriot and political opponent JBM Herzog who
did this thinking and who was eventually responsible for the
legal recognition by constitution of Afrikaans as one of the two
offical languages (English the other one) of South Africa.

Dearest Oubaas, these questions are not intended to denigrate
your invaluable legacy, but please tell me why should only
"wholeness" fit the XYZ-ness description? Are there not also other
"prerequisite conditions" which have an immense power on
evolution? How do all these "prerequisite conditions", perhaps
seven, exert such an immense power on evolution? Where do
they come from if not from one-to-many-love?

(The Afrikaans word "oubaas" means literally "ou(d)"=old and
"baas"=master, leader, boss. Thus "Oubaas"=Old-master, sage.)

Dear fellow learners, do you think that saying to people that
they should manifest "deep compassion" ("deernis") will be
sufficient to cause them to have "deep compassion"? Is there
not a kind of "preparation" necessary before "deep compassion"
can emerge? Will a study of languages be worthy for such a

With care and best wishes


At de Lange <> Snailmail: A M de Lange Gold Fields Computer Centre Faculty of Science - University of Pretoria Pretoria 0001 - Rep of South Africa

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