Compassion (n.) - Compassion is being able to put yourself in the shoes of the other person. It says that you are not separate, that the other person is you. Compassion links the suffering in the person across from you directly to your own suffering. It is a link and a bond. It brings people closer together as equals and does not shove them apart or put one person above another.
Pity (n.) - Pity says that you acknowledge another person's pain but you still feel separate. With pity, you cannot see how your own suffering is linked to the suffering in the other person. The other person seems unfortunate and separate. Pity puts one person above another.
Seeing the Difference between Compassion and Pity
Below is a great talk by Joan Halifax, a Buddhist roshi who works with the dying. She talks about her work and what compassion is and is not. What does it mean to really connect with the suffering in another person?
Mondays – Near Enemies
Many virtues have a near enemy. These near enemies masquerade as the actual skill and are often unhealthy or unhelpful in the long term. Near enemies create a false separation. A true virtue creates a closeness to others or even your best self.
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