Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Compassion - Sharing in the Suffering of Others

Two red salvia flowers extending upward from dark leaves
Red Out of the Black
(photo by Tony Hammond)


Noun. Middle English.
[Old & modern French from ecclesiastical Latin compassio(n-), from compass- past participial stem of campati suffer with: see PASSION noun.]

1 obsolete. Participation in another's suffering; fellow-feeling, sympathy. ME-E17

2 Pity inclining one to show mercy or give aid. Frequently in have compassion on. ME

3 obsolete. Sorrowful emotion, grief. ME-L16

In combination:
compassion fatigue indifference to charitable appeals resulting from the frequency of such appeals.

Of the many virtues that humans are capable of displaying, compassion is one of the most precious. It is simply constructed, from the Latin com- meaning 'combined, together', and passion, from its ecclesiastical root of 'suffering'. Therefore, a compassionate person is one that literally shares in the suffering of others.

Semantically, this differs from some of its synonyms, even though etymologically they're very similar. An empathetic person, for example, is one capable of understanding the troubles of others, and a sympathetic person is one that feels pity. A compassionate person, however, is one both emotionally capable and practically willing to share in the grief of his fellows, giving aid, comfort, relief and support.

Do please leave any comments in the box below.


  1. Another distinction: sympathy and compassion are genuine, and empathy is merely an official or professional response. But compassion is the most generous of them all.

    1. I agree Sally, as does my Penguin Guide to Synonyms and Related Words!

      I've always thought of empathy as more of an ability than a quality, so that one can empathise with another person by understanding how they feel or will feel, but still steamroller all over those feelings by acting unsympathetically or uncompassionately.

  2. This post reminds me an episode from "Lie to Me" where they couldn't put the finger where and how a girl lied about some abuse (I think that was the issue there): Cal (played by the extraordinary Tim Roth) was sure she was lying but the girl didn't show a single sign of lying whatsoever. So he came with the idea of sending Ria into that room of theirs and upon seating in front of the girl, Ria yawns and the girl not even blinks... hence proving that she's not able to make a connection to the point of not even being touched by the contagious yawns.

    I always understood that an empathetic person was more what you say about the compassionate person. In fact, most empathetic people avoid being too close to suffering because they feel physically the other people's pain, or so I understood.

    However it is this is a truly touching post.


    1. I've never seen Lie to Me. That sounds like an interesting episode.

      I'm glad you liked the post, Teresa.

  3. I seem to have had a misconception about the word 'emphasize' . Always thought the word indicated, it was the best comfort one can get, from someone, who is comprehending and understanding ones misery, but, without making you feel, that you burden them with your yearn to be understood. It does not require 'action' from the other, and merely gives comfort, to not feel so alone with your dilemma. *Compassion* ~ I always associated with 'sacrifice' ... and sacrifice is, in my opinion, always connected with guilt. No one wants to make the another feel guilty for emphasizing ... right?
    A tender subject indeed ...
    Have a good week ahead,