Compassion versus Pity (Evil Twins Serie)

Compassion versus Pity

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Compassion versus Pity (Evil Twins Serie)

In the series of blog posts about Evil Twins – Lookalike feelings that are actually exact opposites – I want to speak about Compassion vs. Pity after having written about Love versus Longing and why it matters in my pursuit of happiness and peace.

What is Compassion?

Compassion is the feeling that opens our heart to the suffering of others and our own. It gives suffering a space to be and to heal. It’s the feeling that says “You are not alone, I feel your pain and your suffering is my suffering”. It is, next to Love, the root of connectedness with others. It opens the heart and welcomes the suffering and avoids separation.

What is Pity?

Pity is the feeling of content not to be in the situation of the suffering other. This feeling says: “This situation must be so horrible, I’m so lucky not to be in that being’s situation”. It’s a feeling that closes the heart and leads to indifference. It makes us escape the discomfort of feeling and welcoming another being in our heart. It fosters separation and disconnect.

Why does it Matter?

It matters because it is Pity – intellectually understanding that the other one suffers but not making it our own – that leads to separation. Separation in turn leads to the monstrosities of crime, poverty, famine, exclusion. We find justifications about our acts and the acts of others but shut off the consequences for the victims of these acts. We accept that the suffering is a necessary evil for a greater purpose.

How to cultivate Compassion?

Like often we can cultivate compassion in formal meditation like the Compassion Meditaton. We start by opening our heart to our own suffering. Then we open to the suffering of our loved ones. Then we open to the suffering of strangers and all others by understanding how much they wishes, struggles and dreams are the same as ours. We then move on into training ourselves to feel the pain that is there, to let it open our heart and slowly turn into peace while being held in our soft heart.

We can also cultivate compassion in daily life. Sitting down next to a homeless and listen to his pain without judgement or fear. Participating in initiatives like the Free Listening of the Urban Confessional where the sole goal is to invite others into a space where they can talk are powerful ways to connect to the pain of others and to our own humanity.

We also need to remember that compassion towards ourselves, feeling our own suffering, is the starting point of being able to feel the one of other people. It’s the same with any feelings so learn to feel your feelings as they are without judgement or comment.

Closing Words

I want to use this section of this blog to emphasize some points I get increasingly convinced about. The state of the world with all the suffering, pain and disconnectedness will not be improved by changing society and its rules. We need to change ourselves and our hearts and inspire others with this change. It’s not ok to go along with Evil because it’s the lesser Evil. We need to resist all Evil and follow deeply our own conscience. When its nagging at us telling that what we do or what we let happen is wrong then it’s our duty as human to try to follow the nagging and not ignore it. If we accept Evil out of fear then we condon Evil and can’t wiggle ourselves out of our responsibility in its prevalence.

We are the change we want to see in the world.

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Spent years in the business world, now looking a bit more at myself and why I'm here and where I want to go. This blog shares my experience.

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  1. Tamara

    I consider myself to be a compassionate person. So much that I need to find ways not to burden myself with other people’s problems too much. Dissociating myself from the overwhelming evil so I can get through my day (and night) because as much as I’d like to, I can’t save them all. Know what I mean?

    1. healingly

      Absolutely and that’s one very important difference between Buddhist spirituality and psychology vs. Christian morality. What Buddhism teaches is that the qualities of love, compassion and equanimity should be applied to ourselves as much as to others and that sacrificing ourselves is an unhealthy living. On the other hand compassion like all qualities can be trained in such a way that it makes your heart lighter and not heavier. Welcome the pain of the other, make it your own and rejoice in this shares humanity.

  2. Tara Giroud

    “We need to change ourselves and our hearts and inspire others with this change” I believe this as well. I think society, though, can make room for this to happen more readily. If we live in a society that espouses fear and hate, it gets harder and harder to encourage compassion, I think.

    1. healingly

      There is no such defined thing as society. We are the society – each of us. Now there are powerful actors in society that may not all have our individual best interest in mind (most politicians, most corporates, many churches, …) and the only way for love and compassion to prevail is to work on ourselves and inspire others. Don’t you think?

  3. Johanna

    Like Tamara, I also think it is important to find ways to protect yourself when you feel the pain of those around you so intensely all the time. This is my current problem! It is hard to get the balance sometimes.

    I’d be interested to know where you feel ’empathy’ fits into all this too.

    1. healingly

      Empathy is the ability to feel and understand others emotions. Compassion is to accept it as yours. On the balance question I’m not sure but what I feel is that you can accept the pain of others in your heart and consciously decide that this is not a priority because of xyz that prevents you. What is getting to the slippery slope is to deny the other’s pain because it’s too much or start minimizing it to make our lack of action acceptable. But remember that all qualities you want to express towards others (love, compassion) you need to first express towards yourself. That’s the big difference between the Christian and Buddhist approaches to life.


I'm always curious about your views, please comment!