I admit October has been a hit-and-miss month, and I apologize. I am not sure why, but I recommit to doing a better job. Thank you for your patience, dear reader. Though I haven’t been sitting on my thumbs, I was invited to speak at a disability event and have been furiously writing for that. I speak on 27 October 2021 at 0600 EST. While the event is not open to the public, I plan to post my comments online after the event, suitably altered to hide the event and employer for contractual reasons.
Due mainly to the method of my upbringing, I struggle with conceptualizing terms like love, charity, compassion, feelings, and emotions. I fully understand anger, hate, and rage, but the rest I am a pure novice at best, and at worst, wholly ignorant. I read the texts, studied the books, watched films and lectures, been to psychiatrists and psychologists, and much more. My wife is very patient with me on this topic; my friends tend to tease me gently when they trip across my ignorance on a topic. My enemies know my shortcomings well but cannot use emotions to thwart me, for emotions just don’t work on me.
However, I am not a natural people person. I see someone crying, and I have no clue what to do if there is no visible injury. I know problem resolution, crisis management and can act well in all types of situations, but when it comes to soft skills and “playing well with others,” guess what subject I have consistently failed? Believe me; I have the K-12 report cards to prove my inability, as well as many a note sent home!
What is Compassion?
When the gushy parts in movies come along, I line up for the popcorn and soda machines. I know I am not alone; sometimes, there must be 20 other people, not just men, standing out there making purchases and visiting the bathrooms. I know I am a people watcher, so I can deduce there are more people than I who struggle with this concept. Let’s discuss; maybe we can learn something and not be so uncomfortable.
I find the etymology of a word tends to bring enlightenment; the definition of compassion includes the following gem, deep awareness of other people’s suffering accompanied by a deep desire to relieve that suffering. “Eyes that see and a heart that feels” is a saying the comes to mind to describe compassion as a noun. However, as a verb, compassion means to pity, and pity as a verb is to reflect regret, sympathy, or sorrow with another person. A word of warning, sympathy is very closely related to and often concealed by empathy. Where one is only dangerous to oneself when taken to extremes, the other is dangerous to all whenever practiced.
What is Empathy?
Empathy is all about acting like you understand another person’s emotions and you have a personal desire to share those emotions. Empathy is fake; empathy is a choice one exercises in the attempt to control a person or situation through emotion. Being empathetic is a skill set learned as a manner of defense or, for the more nefarious, to control others. Empathy is nothing more than faking concern. By encouraging empathy, a person with authority is looking to steal control over enough people to contain a group through that group’s emotional connections. By choosing to be empathetic, control over the conscious emotional choices is given to someone else for momentary social gains. Shift the social environment even slightly, and empathy becomes foolish. Still, people will continue to look for something to emote about, even after being caught feeling ridiculous about being empathetic for social gain.
What is Sympathy?
Sympathy is a process of coming to a common feeling in a social setting or group. The emotional pathway is journeyed by people or groups to feel the same emotions for someone else’s emotional state. Sympathy is a most dangerous emotional tool, not for the one experiencing the sorrow or misfortune, but for those who jump in with the person feeling the sadness or experiencing adversity. Understand, the sympathetic person attracts other sympathetic people, like moths to a flame or lemmings to a cliff. I have met people in my travels who were so sympathetic with another person that they thought they had contracted cancer, become pregnant, or had an addiction to dangerous drugs.
Historical Etymology of Compassion
The following is quoted from the Online Etymological Dictionary to satisfy my inner nerd and explore the etymology further, and the link is provided above. Latin compassio is an ecclesiastical loan-translation of Greek sympatheia. Sometimes in Middle English, it meant a literal sharing of affliction or suffering with another. An Old English loan-translation of compassion was efenðrowung. “Com” word-forming element usually meaning “with, together,” from Latin com, archaic form of classical Latin cum “together, together with, in combination,” from PIE *kom– “besides, near, by, with” (compare Old English ge-, German ge-). The prefix in Latin sometimes was used as an intensive. “Passion” c. 1200, “the sufferings of Christ on the Cross; the death of Christ,” from Old French passion “Christ’s passion, physical suffering” (10c.), from Late Latin passionem (nominative passio) “suffering, enduring,” from the past-participle stem of Latin pati “to endure, undergo, experience,” a word of uncertain origin. The notion is “that which must be endured.”
To the atheists, just because Jesus Christ is mentioned does not make something a religious discussion. I find it interesting that passion, passio, is directly related to enduring and suffering of physical experiences of Jesus Christ. Does this mean that a compassionate person is reflecting attributes of Jesus Christ? If so, does this mean mortal beings can acquire godly attributes and still be mortals? If not, to what should mortals aspire?
Along the vein of etymology, feeding my inner nerd, and discovering insight into compassion, I went looking for actions that reflect compassion, adjectives describing compassion. The foremost adjective for compassion is compassionate; how very intriguing. You look for concrete ways to act in a manner of compassion, and you are told to be compassionate; doesn’t this form a logic circle and a paradox?
Remember, a paradox includes two seemingly opposite points, which are opposites on the first reflection but, on further consideration, are more closely related than opposing. In considering compassion and compassionate, we find the etymology important to understanding the relationship, physical suffering endured and experienced for others, or on another’s behalf. According to the New Testament and other religious texts, we find this is the recorded mission of Jesus Christ. IN the definition of compassion, we find mortals can possess a deep awareness of other people’s suffering and choose to have the awareness be accompanied by a deep desire to relieve that suffering. But, what if the person with the awareness and desire does not have the ability; what do they do? Are they less compassionate? Do they somehow become reduced, heartless, uncaring, or judged for not giving when they do not have?
The answers from the different religions are fascinating on this topic, and if you belong to an organized religion, please feel free to discuss this topic with your Rabbi, Minister, Father, Preacher, Bishop, etc., Atheists, feel free to discuss this topic below and with your friends. Those in less organized and non-standard religions do what I do, the absolute best you can, and leave the rest in the hands of people more capable.
However, we still return to the core root of compassion; what is it? From this point forward, I am going to express my limited knowledge and informed opinion. I could be as wrong eating yellow snow in January, but here goes.
Compassion is being cognizant of the people around you. See someone with their arms full; rush to open a door. Offer a hand; better still, find a cart and help them fill the cart. It’s raining, hold an umbrella—Pet a dog. Sit down beside a stranger and listen. See a puddle while driving, slow down, and drive throw without splashing the bus stop where someone is waiting for a bus. See a sign asking for help, give without judgment; does it really matter what they will do with your contribution? Say please. Say thank you! Say you’re welcome. Manners matter.
Modesty in speech, clothing, and behavior matters. A friend of mine was fond of the following, saying, “Everyone can do something. Pitch in!” As a disabled person, I miss being part of that mentality. I miss being able to “pitch in.” Society tells me to stay away, we do not need you, “You’re disabled.” See someone left out; find a way to include them.
If you question why you are doing something, keep doing it until the questions go away. Never fear a question; fear not acting on something you feel is the right thing to do. Want to see society change? Start the change you want to see by exemplifying that change. I am still not totally sure what compassion is; I know I want to help people. I know my resources are limited, but my desire is great. Let’s do something compassionate; if I understand compassion properly, let’s encourage one person today. Even if that person is just you, be more encouraging to others. Society needs more encouragement, needs more smiles, needs more humanity.
By the way, did you catch the news? A huge cheese factory explosion occurred in France; da Brie is everywhere. A large multinational response is underway. The Kaiser is rolling Hamburgers, and the Danes sent fresh pastries.
© 2021 M. Dave Salisbury
All Rights Reserved
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