Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Compassion vs. Pity

There's a fine line between compassion and pity. Since I've been the recipient of both since being diagnosed with MS, I feel somewhat qualified to describe the difference...or at least try.

Compassion is caring about another person. Pity is feeling sorry for that person.

Compassion is calling, emailing, or asking the person face-to-face how she's feeling in a genuine, NORMAL way like you always asked her before. Pity is avoiding calling or emailing that person because you have no idea what to say (and are afraid to say THAT) and when you see the person, hugging her too long (even if you never hug her), and squeezing her arm while saying, "How ARE you?" with that look like you just saw a dead baby bird in the road.

Compassion is not forgetting that the person is your friend just as much as you are hers and not being afraid to talk about your own experiences, hopes, dreams, sadness, etc. Pity is making the person feel like any and all conversations must focus on her and THE ILLNESS.

Compassion is asking about THE ILLNESS and listening to the answer without trying to "fix it." Pity is changing the subject whenever THE ILLNESS is brought up because you feel so horrible about it and don't know how to "fix it."

Compassion is asking how you can help and helping when you can. Pity is assuming the person needs help without asking or insisting that even though the person told you what she needed or did not need, that she must be wrong and you know best and helping in ways she does not need/want.

Compassion is thinking of the person as a complex human being with challenges and strengths. Pity is thinking of the person as "Poor [insert name here]."

Compassion is not being afraid to laugh at THE ILLNESS when the person is the one pointing out the humor. Pity is being horrified when the person laughs at her own ILLNESS.

Compassion is letting the person whine when she needs to, but encouraging her when she's ready to focus on the positive. Pity is letting her whine forever and validating her belief that her life is worse than the parent of a child with cancer, one of the lost boys of the Sudan, an Iraqi orphan begging on the street, a person with advanced HIV/AIDS, or a Hurricane Katrina victim.

Compassion is looking for the ways that you and the other person are alike. Pity is looking at the ways you're different.

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