“As I walk through this wicked world
Searchin’ for light in the darkness of insanity I ask myself, “Is all hope lost?
Is there only pain and hatred and misery?”
“And each time I feel like this inside
There’s one thing I wanna know
What’s so funny ’bout peace, love and understanding?”
– Lyrics from the song Peace, Love, and Understanding by Nick Lowe
Anyone who has lived in or even visited my hometown of Davis has almost certainly crossed paths with David Breaux, aka the “Compassion Guy”. You would often see his sage-like presence standing in front of his Compassion Earth Bench on the corner of 3rd and C Streets in downtown Davis, asking passersby to share their written idea of the word compassion. From most of the entries in Breaux’s notebook and his self-published book titled Compassion, the words love, understanding, kindness and caring for others are expressed throughout the pages. But occasionally there’s an entry that expresses anger and contempt for humanity such as “compassion is me and my shotgun”. It’s not surprising to hear a statement like that in our divisive world today, but when it’s actually played out in brutal violence, in what is usually a safe, quiet college town, we should all be concerned.
Breaux was stabbed to death at a popular community park, next to a children’s playground where years ago I and other stay-at-home dads took our kids to play. Breaux’s murder seemed unfathomable, not just because of where it happened, but because of the type of peaceful and kind-hearted person he came to be known as in our community. Yet, in today’s world, going against societal norms (such as being a kind, caring and compassionate man), can be deeply threatening to some people. Standing on a street corner for hours each day, trying to promote compassion to an anxious and hurried world, takes an incredible amount of courage.
Most will view Breaux’s murder as a senseless act of violence by a troubled young man, but it also speaks to a disturbing trend in our culture of how boys and young men are socialized. Masculine ideals start at a young age and are often related to “toughness, stoicism, heterosexism, self-sufficient attitudes and lack of emotional sensitivity and of connectedness”. Boys learn to be men from the men in their lives and from our social and cultural constructs. When boys grow up in an unloving environment, or with toxic masculine ideals where emotional expression is frowned upon and dominance and aggression are rewarded, this increases the chances for boys to bully and men to commit various acts of violence. Similarly, when our culture celebrates men for aggressive and violent behavior (such as in certain contact sports), instead of being compassionate and caring of others, it sends the wrong message to young boys.
Richard Reeves, author and lead researcher of the Boys and Men Project, believes that America needs a culture shift in male role models and in the job market. Women have made great progress in being hired in what were traditionally male jobs, including science, medicine, engineering and law. On the other hand, men have not pursued traditionally female careers to the same extent, especially in caring occupations such as nursing, K-12 education, counseling and social work. Reeves argues that men in care related jobs could provide a better service to other men. For example, since most substance abusers are men, wouldn’t it be appropriate to have more male substance abuse counselors? Similarly, most students being referred to special education are male, while most Special Ed. teachers are women (84%).
Courageous women have had to break down gender stereotypes to enter traditionally male professions. Men will have to do the same when entering female-dominant professions. Because men who do choose caring occupations, or for that matter take on more responsibility in caring for their kids, have to overcome the stigma these roles present. Often men are perceived as professional failures (‘Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach’) or effeminate when choosing to be more caring or compassionate.
Breaux had the educational background (Stanford graduate) and resources to pursue a career in social services or other caring career but was dissatisfied living the rat race in the Bay Area. Instead, he moved to Davis to embark on his spiritual quest of bringing awareness to compassion. As he engaged with people in our community, he came to view himself as a “street therapist” offering to bring “inner peace” for those seeking guidance.
According to most news accounts, Breaux’s stabbing death was a cold-blooded fit of rage by a disturbed young man who was unaware of the identity of his victim. But, would it have mattered? If the assailant recognized he was about to kill a kind and caring man of color, willing to counsel a deeply distraught young man of color, could lives have been saved?
I never had the opportunity to write my idea of compassion in Breaux’s notebook, so in honor of him and other courageous, caring people, this is my interpretation: Compassion is not only caring and serving those in need, but also having the courage to stand up against injustice and archaic social norms.
It takes courage for men to break down gender stereotypes to be stay-at-home dads or enter into caring, female-dominated careers.
No matter who you are, it takes courage to stand up for your beliefs and against prejudice and hatred.
And, it takes courage to be the only person in my community who literally stood for more compassion in a cruel world.
It goes without saying, Rest in Peace David Henry Breaux.