Little John is just learning to walk. He’s making his first attempts to do this simple and so complicated action called walking. See him smiling and giggling and so faithfully making attempt after attempt to walk. He takes a few steps, he falls down. He gets back again. Then he falls again.
What would you say to him?
Version 1: “Oh, you poor baby, you fell. That’s terrible, this is not fair, stay there, I will carry you around!”
Version 2: “Ups, you fell. This happens when you are learning something new, and walking is new for you. Come on up, I know you can do this!”
Obviously you will never use version 1 and go for the sane version 2. If we do this for a child learning to walk, how’s it any different for an adult who “fell down” because of a break up or having trouble with his job, or some other difficulties he’s going through?
The Differences Between Pity, Compassion and Empathy
“Pity = strong feeling of sadness or sympathy for someone or something; something that causes sadness or disappointment.”
“I don’t want your pity!”
How many times did You hear this line in movies? How many times did You say it yourself? And how many times did you hear it from a family member, a friend or your partner?
Why do we get resentful when we feel someone acts from a place of “pity”?
Even when we are in great distress and we truly need someone’s helping hand we tend to reject it if it comes packed in “pity”.
Although the Christian religion tells us to be merciful and have pity on the less fortunate, I believe the real meaning has been lost in translation.
I believe the right way to help someone is to use your empathy and show compassion.
“Empathy = the feeling that you understand and share another person’s experiences and emotions : the ability to share someone else’s feelings”
“Compassion = a feeling of wanting to help someone who is sick, hungry, in trouble, etc.”
The difference lies in the subtle nuances of these words.
Why I Think Pity Should Be Avoided
- You mingle so much with the other’s distress that You start crying or feeling as bad as they are. Thus You will not be able to help in any way, because You will be as troubled as they are.
- When you feel sad or disappointed you are putting a label on what happened to them. And you turn into an almighty judge that states that thing as “terrible”, “horrible”, “outrageous” or whatever other “negative” words. You never know the bigger picture and how things will turn out eventually. I am not saying to agree with bad behaviour or harmful situations, but just to stop adding negativity to it.
- When you use pity you position yourself as a saviour, a superior being who helps the “victim”. This inflates your Ego and encourages the “victim” behaviour on the one you are helping this way.
How About Empathy And Compassion?
Having Empathy means
- having the ability to “walk in someone else’s shoes” for as long as You need to connect with them in order to be able to feel what they are feeling.
- wanting to understand what they are going through and show them they are not alone.
- not judging their situation in any way, not making yourself the Saviour and them the Victim.
- seeing them as they are. Offering them the space of your empathic presence allows them to feel seen and accepted. From there on, change and healing can take place.
Showing Compassion means
- You want to help a person in need while showing your confidence in their ability to get out of that stressful situation.
- You help someone while showing them respect.
I’ve pondered often around the meaning of these 3 words Pity, Empathy, Compassion and how we use them in our everyday lives, even when we don’t realise we do so.
I am very curious to know what’s your take on them. What is your experience with feeling or showing these emotions? Share in the comments section below and share this post if you like it 🙂
With all my love,
P.S. Here’s a beautiful song of Alanis Morissette called “Empathy”. Enjoy!