Compassion Equals Love
I attended a talk this past weekend at the Vedanta Society of Southern California that I wanted to share. The talk was titled "Do You Feel For Others" and was mainly about compassion. I've been trying all week to think of how best to share my thoughts on this topic, and it's been difficult for me because compassion is something I have just started to understand over the past couple years.
During this talk, the speaker broke down the difference between compassion, empathy and sympathy. Sympathy is when you put yourself in a superior position to the other person. You feel pity for them and what they're going through, but you don't feel affected yourself. It's more of a selfish act as you're protecting yourself from those emotions.
Empathy is putting yourself in the other person's shoes and being able to say "me too" to whatever they're going through. You're on the same level as them and you completely understand how they feel.
Compassion begins with empathy - an understanding of the other person's situation - but furthermore includes the wanting to help the person with their needs. (Keep in mind, compassion can be used in either negative OR positive scenarios.) That's the big difference with compassion; the willingness to help others.
I used to think that compassion meant you cared for other people. You had passion for the other person. (There's another hard word. Passion...) I've learned that it's not enough just to care about people. Caring about someone has nothing to do with expressing those feelings. Even if I care about someone or relate to them in some way, I don't always express it.
True compassion is both expressing how you feel and going that extra step in making an impact in that person's life. Furthermore, it's not about your interactions only with friends and family, but with everyone you encounter.
How often do we go out of our way to help the ones that we love? How often do we go out of our way to help strangers?
Compassion is about empowering others. Compassion is love. The speaker used the analogy of a moth and a flame. The moth is always drawn to the flame even if it won't give anything in return. That's how compassion works. It's love for others without expecting anything back. Love is expansion, while selfishness is contraction.
There seems to be some debate upon whether humans are innately born selfish or if it's something they pick up when they're growing up. It's the classic nature versus nurture argument. I'm not sure which is true, but at any rate I do believe we're more selfish than we intend to be. Selfishness is just more prevalent in our culture. That's probably why when you walk down the card isle that you'll find "sympathy" cards vs "compassion" cards.
Just by learning the true definition of compassion over the weekend, I feel I've already changed my outlook. I've realized that I've certainly been more selfish in my life than intended. Moving forward, I especially want to try to be more compassionate towards everyone - not just my friends and family. This is another reason why I'm glad that I'm pursuing the path of yoga and why it feels so right to me. I'm given the opportunity to help others in need every single day.
Now that you know the difference between sympathy, empathy and compassion (if you didn't before), I hope that you'll choose compassion more often. I certainly will.