Saturday, January 22, 2011


Compassion is my weapon. Compassion is connecting to another person's plight, so that it leads to helping. Compassion is often lumped with pity. And this is not an unfair lumping because compassion can often be twisted into a person just pitying another. Compassion's Latin root means "suffer with."

Pity meanwhile means sorrow for another's suffering. Pity requires no involvement. It is a layering added to what is seen.

Pity makes a person think, "Poor dear," and feel bad when they see a homeless man sleeping under newspaper on a park bench. Compassion makes a person give that man a blanket, offer him food--compassion leads to action. It is massively different from pity, which relies on a self concept.

Compassion is not an easy weapon to wield. It is easy to fall to pity-the thought process to travel between compassion and pity is not long or convoluted-it's a hop, skip, and a jump. There is a great difference between suffering with another and suffering because you see another suffering. One (pity) makes it all about you; compassion obliterates the distinction between me and you. Compassion is actually knowing the experience-having it, too.

There are many pitfalls surrounding compassion.  It is not a tool that many can properly use.  Compassion can trap the other person in it—you feel for them, you share with them, and they become enmeshed with you.  They come to rely on you. 

Compassion is not the same thing as forgiveness.  From compassion, there may be forgiveness—but withholding forgiveness does not make a person uncompassionate.  In fact, not forgiving a person when they have not changed anything may be the most compassionate thing to be done.  Accountability is important, and most people snake away from any responsibility these days. 

It is easy to look at compassion and lump it along with kindness.  But that is to miss what compassion is-to overlook the power there.  Kindness is just doing things to make the other person feel good.  Compassion doesn’t have an end goal of how the person should feel.  Compassion may manifest itself as kindness or harshness or anything inbetween.  Compassion seeks to help-in whatever way it may.

Sympathy is also a trap near to compassion It is sharing and understanding sorrow. There is some overlap here. Compassion encompasses more than just sorrow, though--it applies to the totality of emotions, the whole range. It is connecting to the person-not just in sorrow, but in joy and terror as well.

Sympathy is certainly human-and it is a step above pity. But sympathy still has the fault of separation: you are separate from the one who's in sorrow.

But, ah, compassion! Compassion is commiserating-it is not just observing; it is knowing and experiencing. Compassion without action is useless. In fact, compassion does not exist without action--compassion without action is perhaps sympathy, pity. Compassion is action. Compassion is the embodiment that there is no separation between you or I.

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Anonymous said...

I wrote a draft post today on the subject of compassion. You go into in much more depth but, this is the take I had on it today:

We say about someone 'They're so compassionate.' What we mean is that they're kind or loving or giving or helpful.

But real compassion is the willingness to be totally uncompromising. To refuse to do what the other person is asking you to do unless it is pointing them in the way of reality.

It's a total refusal to support their story. It's understanding what that story is, why it's there, how it's working and what it does for that person - and then being willing to destroy it - constantly loosening the threads, snipping away at them until it drops away - or sometimes by being brutal and just yanking it away and giving them no opportunity to pull it back.

But in order to do that you have to be absolutely certain that what you're showing them is unassailably true - it has to hit them in the face otherwise they'll just pull that story back over themselves. So you have to have a way to present the truth to them so that they CAN see it. It has to be demonstrated - leave no shadow of a doubt. Once you know something, you can't unknow it (I don't mean remembering something) I mean KNOWING.

So refuse to buy into the story and be able to demonstrate the truth to them in a way that they'll be able to see without any doubt. You can't do more than that. Whether they see it or not is out of your hands - it's not down to you and it's not down to them. All you can do is be uncompromisingly compassionate. Com-passion. With Passion. Total Conviction.

Dreamer said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

What you say about compassion without action isn't compassion - it's just sympathy.

What is the lynchpin is the action that takes them to the edge to see. And compassion means using whatever is neccessary: that can be anything - it is totally dependent on that person: so it can be soft, gentle, humorous, cold, logical or angry and raging. It's whatever it takes. There's no formula. No 'one size fits all'.

Dreamer said...

Yes, exactly. But it should all go back through compassion, like a filter.

It's similar to my approach with my students: What is my goal in this interaction? It all must filter through there, return to that again and again. Lose sight of the goal, the purpose, and it dissolves into nonsense.

Anonymous said...

Yes, it all comes down to focus. The compassion post came out of a previous post (also unpublished) about listening. I know that active listening is a much quoted 'therapist's' tool. but done properly it's invaluable. And active looking is the same thing. It's constant focussing, but without 'you' being in the picture and it requires detachment. the key thing is focus. As you say "what is the goal".

Kakistos said...

Ilona actually pointed me to this today. We were talking about just this on her page where i was berating one of her spiritual type friends who was making wild allegations that i have no compassion because i dont speak in soft tones and empart nice words. And Ilone brought it round to the topic of compassion being what it is.

Rather serendipitously. I said:
"compassion is helping people regardless of how it would appear to others, how it may be judged by others. compassion is love in its purest form, but that is yet another word that has been betrayed by peoples lies.
I went on to say:
"The depths of compassion stretch so far as to allow for even that which would seem evil to some to on a deeper level be compassionate in intent and result, as most dont even understand the true meaning of the word evil either. But it still goes no further than selfless action. Compassion is severing a mans gangrenous limb with whatever the best implements you have to hand to stop the infection spreading further than it already has where anyone else would bandage for fear that they may be wrong in so doing.

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