Compassion — or the lack of it — has been a recurring theme on this blog recently, perhaps understandably as we do not shy away from topics that raise questions about the behaviour of society and in particular those who govern us. The absence of compassion is evident worldwide — it is not confined to one country or one group of people — it is universal.
I believe that over the last 15 to 20 years compassion has been sacrificed on the altar of human greed. People love things and use people — not the other way around. Possession and consumption have become the driving forces. We are so centred on what we want that we forget and even ignore the needs of others and will often trample on those less fortunate than ourselves to get what we want.
A lot of governments talk about “moral duty” and their “moral compass,” they claim to be Christian countries especially when they are whipping up anti-Muslim rhetoric — the Muslims can be equally as bad in return, as are other religious groups. Yet all these religions have the golden rule — “Treat your neighbour as yourself,” “do as you would be done by” and “harm thee none.” There are times when I want to shout what happened to “Thou shalt not kill” — but that is a debate for another day.
When did greed become a virtue? The last time I looked it was one of the seven deadly sins. When did greed, at the expense of others, become a virtue, become something to be valued, and something to aspire to?
Is this what trickledown economics is all about? The government fights wars over weapons of mass destruction that do not exist, kill thousands of people on both sides to achieve their goal — what kind of example does this set to their citizens? Certainly not one of compassion — more one of a bully grabbing what it can. So if the government can do it, companies feel they can do it, and when the companies can do it, people feel they can do it.
Government greed, leads to corporate greed, leads to personal greed and to the dehumanization of society and the loss of compassion.
Society is going backward — not forward.
Doing an internet search on “compassion” reveals tons of images and stories that are Chirst-centered and pro-fetus. It is a treacle-fest that made my blood sugar rise and I was repulsed by the kindergarten level of expressed definition. It’s as if the meaning of the word has been taken over online by right-wing conservative extremists. That was a shocking meme to discover.
So, for our featured image on your article, I decided to go political cartoon-compassion to counter the hardcore reality of your words. The sequester, in the USA anyway, is seen as an uncompassionate maneuver to punish the poor and the working class by the powered elite.
Is there a memetic difference between compassion and empathy? If so, what?
For me yes – empathy is identifying with and understanding the thoughts and feelings of another – this can be misery or joy , boredom – a whole range of states of being.
Compassion is about understanding – and yes feeling empathy with those who are suffering AND wanting to do something to alleviate that suffering.
One can feel empathy with a joyous person – it would be rare indeed to have compassion for them.
If I look back at my childhood it was spent being taught compassion by example from my mother. She was christian – yes with a small c – but above all she was compassionate – this shone though how she lived her life.
I think actions of compassion have been around far longer than the understanding and practice of empathy.
I think compassion has been co-opted and cheapened by mainstream religion. People tend to be more empathetic today because there’s no cost to it and no action involved in the naming. Compassion, however, takes effort and dedication and not, unfortunately, an unfortunate branding of a religious cause.
I suppose G. W. Bush ruined the whole notion for at least two generations by his disingenuous “Compassionate Conservatism” which was neither and nothing:
Yes it has been stolen ……………… by the churches – I fell out with them when it was revealed how much monry they had invested in arms firms back in the late 1970s – and the politicians ……………….. similar has happened in the UK – this from October 2011 http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2011/oct/02/cameron-tory-party-modern-compassionate to this 6 months later http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/end-of-compassionate-conservatism-as-david-cameron-details-plans-for-crackdown-on-welfare-7880774.html.
I am really not comfortable with the notion of compassion being associated in such a way with either of those two entities – is there a new word for compassion that is not besmirched by the church or state ?
I agree the word has been ruined by political conservatives.
I think “empathy” is the new “compassion” — just because it requires putting yourself in the shoes of someone else.
Here is what my American Thesaurus suggests as alternatives:
Of those choices, I prefer “mercy.”
Your last line is the bottom line which, sadly, says it all Nicola.
The difference between empathy and compassion? For me, empathy is something that is felt, compassion is something that is shown.
Nailed it Peter – thank you
Empathy is compassion without action.
I think I like humanity – but I think we are losing that too – so maybe mercy is the better choice – the english dictionary is verysimilar but has humaneness as well maybe that works ?
The best kind of compassion is when the recipient doesn’t know the person or people who brought it about, I think.
Depressing post, but I see where you’re coming from. When people DO act compassionately, I find it just as disheartening if their motives are not pure– like in David’s article about the mayoral candidate of NYC who has just changed her position on sick days for workers.
Agreed Emily – “Using” compassion as a means to an end devalues it totally.