You Seek Knowledge: Compassion is NOT One of the Jedi’s Strongest Traits
“Attachment is forbidden. Possession is forbidden. Compassion, which I would define as unconditional love, is essential to a Jedi’s life. So you might say, that we are encouraged to love.”
Alright, I’ll admit that this is NOT the feeling I get from the Jedi we see in the prequels. The Jedi order comes across as… well, cold. Now to be clear, this write-up is not going to be about how the Jedi are bad, or stupid, or anything abundantly negative (unless you are a Mace Windu fan). I want to take a look at how the Jedi order, which has essentially had become a production line, could have been strengthened if it had been willing to focus more on kindness and compassion instead of the “dogmatic narrow view” to which it strictly adhered.
Let’s break down the Jedi order, taking into consideration how the Jedi probably view themselves: as a family. We know that all younglings learn under Master Yoda. From the few times we see him teaching (in Attack of the Clones and The Clone Wars) he comes off as the gentle old grandfather: soft-spoken, wise, and willing to let the children work out problems to come to their own conclusions. For a child that is new to Jedi learning Yoda is the perfect introduction-level teacher.
As the students build a solid foundation of Jedi skills they are eventually chosen by a Jedi Knight or Master to become their padawan learner. We see this type of relationship throughout the prequel era and it demonstrates that the bond between master and learner is very similar to a normal parent/adolescent relationship. The instructor’s job to make sure the padawan has the life skills needed to succeed in the galaxy–not just survival in combat but conflict diffusion tactics, negotiation skills, and hundreds of other boring things that drive learners like Anakin and Ahsoka crazy.
The final “stage” of being part of the Jedi family unit is deciding to take on the role of instructor to teach the younger generation. Obi-Wan is a great example of a Jedi we see start as a learner, take a padawan, and finish the training of someone else. In The Clone Wars Obi-Wan is no longer Anakin’s active master once that young man is a Jedi Knight following the events on Geonosis. Had Yoda not implemented his tricky “grandpa move” by assigning Ahsoka to learn from Anakin, Obi-Wan would have started the teacher/learner process all over again with a new student.
By the time Revenge of the Sith starts we see how these relationships settle into place over time. Once the learner has become a Jedi Knight his/her relationship with other Jedi essentially become that of brothers-(or sisters-) in-arms. The Jedi “process” produces a well-trained unit of warrior scholars who seek to do good things and bring peace to the galaxy. However, even though the Jedi may appear to function as a family unit, they really are closer to an army (which does not mean they are strictly soldiers). They have ranks and take orders from their higher-ups (the council) which they are supposed to follow without question. Anytime the Jedi council is questioned–mainly by Anakin–the Jedi become incredibly defensive (I’m looking at you, Mace Windu). There does not appear to be a lot of respect between the Jedi, at least at first glance. However, I would argue that it is not respect that is missing, but compassion.
When I say they are missing compassion, I do not mean they are emotionless. We see most of the Jedi focusing on their emotions at one point or another. What I think was lacking was a basic level of kindness to empathize with other beings. Let’s use Anakin as an example since we spend the most time with him throughout the Jedi process. Because he spent the first ten years of his life separate from the Jedi order he had certain experiences that are unique to most Jedi. Those being his relationship with his mother and being “space adopted” by Qui-Gon Jinn.
Looking at Qui-Gon, Anakin’s first experience with a Jedi was one of kindness. Even though Qui-Gon was aware that Anakin was far more unique than anyone realized (Anakin being the Chosen One), he still rescued a young boy from slavery. To Anakin, the noble act of a single Jedi saved him from a lifetime of servitude. However, none of this would have happened if Shmi had not sacrificed a life with her son when she lets Anakin leave Tatooine. Anakin sees his mother willing to give up the one thing she holds most dear so he can live a better life. It is this ultimate act of love that Anakin will keep with him forever: self-sacrifice for those you love.
As Anakin begins his training with the Jedi his expectations must be quite different from what he experiences. He grows up with a loving, present, and giving mother. Then a selfless Jedi rescues him from slavery, so it would not be unreasonable for Anakin to expect all Jedi to act in a similar fashion. Unfortunately that is not the case. Anakin must train to be a Jedi while knowing (or at least thinking) that his mother is still a slave. It must have been overwhelmingly difficult for Anakin to train knowing that at any time the Jedi order could have gone to free her (either by putting a stop to slavery on Tatooine or by outright buying her). The Jedi couldn’t even have been bothered to just check in on her from time to time to make sure she was OK.
Of course helping Shmi would opened a giant can of worms for the Jedi. If they were to free Shmi, wouldn’t they have to free every slave on the planet? If they freed every slave on Tatooine wouldn’t they be morally obligated to free more slaves across the galaxy? If the slave industry is stopped then the crime organizations, as well as slavers, would potentially start a war across the galaxy. If war were to break out, then thousands–maybe millions–would die in the conflict.
All because Shmi Skywalker was freed from slavery.
When you look down that path you can see why the Jedi would not want to do anything about Shmi (not even taking into account that Anakin’s mother might be a distraction to him as he trained, or a point of contention amongst other young padawans). But this is when compassion comes into play. Anakin was not like every other padawan. Anakin was raised by his mother who was kind, loving, and warm (unlike the Jedi who surround him during his training). If the Jedi believed that Anakin may have been the Chosen One, why would they not want to do everything in their power to make sure he turned out as good and noble as possible? Anakin was a special case, regardless of how much “evil stepfather” Mace Windu may have wanted to treat him just like any other Jedi.
In Star Wars: Ahsoka there is an interlude with Obi-Wan on Tatooine following Revenge of the Sith when he reflects on visiting Shmi’s grave. He admits to himself that he, and the Jedi, should have done so much more for her and her son. Considering how many Jedi rules and codes the Jedi break during the years leading to Palpatine’s reign, it would not have been unreasonable for a Jedi to come to Tatooine on a secret mission to buy Shmi and set her free. Doing this would have given Anakin peace of mind. Not only that, but he would have had greater faith that the Jedi order was truly on his side. This lack of compassion is why Palpatine was able to form such a strong connection to Anakin.
While the Jedi spent 13 years doing things that didn’t make sens, causing Anakin to doubt their intentions, Palpatine was the father figure who encouraged him to follow his heart and listen to his feelings. At the core of Anakin there were the lessons his mother taught him: listen to his instincts, listen to what his heart was telling him. While the Jedi would tell Anakin to do things a certain way and not to question them, his upbringing (and encouragement from Palpatine) told him that ignoring his heart was the wrong thing to do. That is why he could turn his back on the Jedi code to marry Padme and do terrible things to try and save her.
Let’s look at the next major film event when Anakin follows his heart: the moment when Anakin betrays Mace Windu in Revenge of the Sith. Set aside Padme. Set aside Palpatine. Look at these two men and think about their relationship. From the moment a young Anakin set foot in the Jedi council chamber Mace Windu did not try to hide his dislike for the boy. Here is a well-respected Jedi Master, second only to Yoda, and he can’t show Anakin a little bit of kindness? The boy just left his mother in slavery and Mace could not be bothered to show a little bit of sympathy (which happens again when he is confronts a young Boba Fett in The Clone Wars). We know this animosity did not dissipate over the years. When Anakin reveals that Palpatine is the Sith lord they had been searching for what does Mace tell him?
“If what you have told me is true then you will have earned my trust.”
… What… ? After years of fighting in the Clone Wars, even side-by-side at times, Mace still did not trust Anakin? I’m not sure about you, but I can kinda see why Anakin cuts Mace’s arm off. It was 13 years of being disrespected and talked down to but not only that, Mace was Hoth-level cold in the way he treated Anakin.
More than likely it would have been easy for these two men to have decent relationship if Mace had reached out. A compliment here, a lightsaber pointer there, literally anything to try and establish a rapport with Anakin. But Mace never took the time. He was so busy looking at the bigger Jedi picture that he missed the most important detail: a little bit of kindness can go a long way.
Either out of fear, power, wealth, jealousy, or many other things, so much suffering was caused because some Jedi couldn’t be nicer to each other. Anakin may have been a bit awkward when he was flirting with Padme, but he may have been onto something when he said:
“Compassion, which I would define as unconditional love, is essential to a Jedi’s life.”
Too bad he was the only one who understood this.