Compassion is the understanding of others, with the cultivated awareness of suffering. Perhaps more accurately, Compassion is empathy with the awareness of suffering.
The western concept of “empathy“, popular in the writings of twentieth century humanists, philosophers and psychologist has its own active verb tense. “to empathize” or “empathizing“. compassion does not have a verb tense in English… perhaps ” to sympathize“… but I will stick with Compassion, here.
To empathize is to imagine another’s experience, compare that experience with his/hers and to be affected. One empathizes with another person(s), organism(s) and their circumstance. It should be noted, that from a stand point of certain schools of thought,as in Zen Buddhism, Humanistic Psychology and existential- phenomenology, an organism is always considered with his circumstances. One is always interacting, affecting and being affected by his environment . This is “experience”, the participation of an organism in its world. “Phenomenology” is big ugly word for the study of experience(s), from subjective lenses. “Empathizing”, is being affected by and imagining another(s) experience(s).
Another overlapping concept is “perspective-taking“. “Perspective taking” is imagining another’s experience and world-view. Perspective-taking is objective and rational in method; and deliberate in avoiding any emotional affect and judgments. To take another’s point-of-view and study while holding back any personal bias and presumption would be perspective taking. (see also Husserl’s bracketing or epoche`)
Is it at all possible to remove all bias? Some psychologists argue that perspective taking is a primitive form of empathizing .
Alfie Cohen, Author of “Brighter Side of Human Nature“…… poses another phenomenological approach to empathy that he calls “feeling-into“. To “feel-into” another’s circumstance, personal happenings, gestalt or being-in-this-world. Feeling-into is an full cognitive investigation of another’s subjective experience.
Back to Compassion
I do believe that there are people who can empathize or feel-into another’s situation without compassion.
A study of the psychopathology of some dangerous criminals might support my claim. For example: there are a few who feel powerful or aroused when they imagine themselves as the victims of their violent attacks. in this case there is empathy and perspective taking, for pathological pleasure, but no compassion.
To act with compassion is to act and empathize, while recognizing and considering suffering. To act with compassion is to act and be affected by the suffering of others.
Understanding suffering is at the core of any study, religion, or way-of-being that is called Buddhism. Thus compassion is a much talked about subject-matter . Understanding the nature of suffering is fundamental to Buddhist practice.
Note below a translation of the four Noble Truths of Buddhism
Four Nobel Truths of Buddhism .
- Suffering Exists in Life
- The Source of Suffering is attachment
- The Emancipation of Suffering is attainable
- The Path or the “Eightfold Path” (wisdom, conduct, development)
In Christianity, (at least from my non-religious outsider’s stand appointment), A great deal of importance is placed on the suffering of Jesus at the end of his days. In interpretations, God seeks to empathize with man in the Life and times of Jesus. Followers seek to understand God in part by empathizing with the life and Crucifixion of Jesus. The very important Christian theme of Redemption is tied to suffering and compassion just as it is the teachings of Jesus, in the “Sermon on the Mount“.
Compassion is care for others. What can, at times, be overshadowed is the care for ones own well-being. IMHO: It is important to act in the same compassionate manner for his or herself, as he does for others. Just as important as anything written here: The care and wellbeing of one’s self and others includes happiness, pleasure, curiosity and a spectrum of experiences…. not just suffering.
Compassion maybe a cornerstone of ethics along with self- esteem and reciprocity. If we truly love and esteem ourselves (that is, our being) ; If we treat each other in the manner we wish to be treated, then we may presume that no one likes pain and suffering. We’d care for ourselves and others, and act accordingly— rich in understanding perspectives beyond our own.
It would be unethical to deliberatively harm another (or one’s own being) that we have compassion and care for.