Nov 7, 2019 in Research

The Meaning of Compassion

One of the basic natural instincts that helped species to survive and evolve is compassion. It is difficult to give an exact definition to compassion as there have been a lot of controversies on the topic. In general, from the psychological point of view, compassion is people’s ability to understand one’s sufferings and be ready to help one in trouble. Compassion is closely connected with empathy; in fact, it is one of the basic principles of empathy. Empathy is defined as a capacity to feel compassion for others. Empathy is a part of emotional intelligence, meaning the ability to control one’s or other’s emotions and beneficially use the information received in communication. This paper explores the meaning of compassion as an empathetic distress, why it is necessary to develop it, how to do it, and what benefits it can bring. 

There are three theoretical approaches to compassion. First states that compassion is the same as empathic distress. Second says that compassion is a blend of sadness and love. The third theory inclines to mark compassion out as a distinct affective state with the different response than that of the empathy, sadness and love. Recent theories define compassion as an affective state that aims at improving the condition of those who suffer. People acquainted with Darwin’s theory would not be surprised to find out that compassion is essential for human survival. However, compassion should be balanced like any other skill in order to work for personal effectiveness and increase happiness level. There are certain ways to cultivate empathy (practicing reflective and active listening, acting kind, being helpful and sincere) and there are blocks that prevent people from being empathetic or compassionate (snap judgments, just-world hypothesis).

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 Cultivating compassion does not take long, it just needs some practice from a person. However, to reach the best results, it is important to cultivate compassion from early childhood. When teaching little children be empathetic, parents should show empathy themselves, it is the main factor how a child can learn.  Parents should express their feelings appropriately and think carefully about what they say. They should ask children to describe and explain how they feel. In addition, they should try to always answer children’s questions. To cooperate with each other better, people must learn listening. Active listening means conscious and attentive listening and requires concentration from a person. People usually feel when they are listened attentively. It is important to be sincere, open, and kind towards a conversational partner. It also could be helpful to find something similar to a person you talk to and try not to make snap judgments about people (judging people basing on the little information on them). There are means of showing one’s attachment and sympathies to another person which works for compassion. They are tactile contact and voice. Touch is a basic means of showing one he or she is safe. It is useful for cooperation. One of the world most widespread social gestures is shaking hands in some cultures and kissing cheeks in the others. Compassion is also communicated through voice. With the right calm tone of voice it would be easier to make attachment to a person one talks to.

The benefits from cultivating compassion range from basic knowledge on how to differ right from wrong to the improved social skills which can be useful both during school life and in the prospective work setting. There are positive effects that would be useful for those who want to live in harmony with people around and with themselves. Compassion increases responsiveness and a sense of meaning and purpose. It facilitates cooperation and protects those who suffer. Compassion suppresses natural egoism, making people care about each other. People get and stay connected because compassion enhances their relationship. It leads to ‘feel good effect’, meaning when one person makes another person happy, he feels better himself. It makes one more attractive to other people because people would rather prefer a caring and helpful person as a friend or a partner. Compassion improves physical and mental health. According to some researches it can increase longevity.

Some theorists claim that compassion is unreliable when things come to differing right from wrong. The concepts can be blurred when compassion is not balanced and comes to its extreme points. For example, altruism which is being helpful to someone without having one’s own benefits from it. On the one hand, it is based on unselfish desire to help and can lead to the increase of one’s own happiness. On the other hand, it is no good when a person comes to an extreme point of altruism and forgets about his or her own needs. Besides, to some people it can seem suspicions and push them aside from such a person. Being extremely compassionate can make a person too emotional, which can lead to instability of a person’s mental health, making him or her vulnerable. Such people may also lose the sense of reality and can be easily deceived. 

Compassion is emotional response to seeing someone suffering that causes desire to help. It is a significant part of the concept of empathy. It is important to cultivate compassion within a person in order to develop prosocial behavior and improve personal effectiveness. It does not take long to cultivate empathy, but it is better to make a foundation in the early childhood. Empathy facilitates relationship, it makes one feel better because of making other people happier, suppresses natural egoism, develops necessary qualities of active listening, being open and kind, and boosts physical and mental health. Balanced compassion will work great for personal wellness and success.


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