Nearly every one feels protective toward a new baby, even though the newborn is completely dependent and unable to do anything for herself. At the rite of Baptism at church, every face, no matter how beaten down, lightens as the baby is processed into the sanctuary. A sense of tenderness fills the space as we all feel compassion for the tired young parents. We don’t pity them.
What makes compassion a virtue and pity something people dislike? I think compassion involves feeling with and for the other. We imagine how it might be to be that person, whether we have had the same experience or not. We are equals at heart if not in the particular instance of suffering. We know that we too have been or could be in the same situation and we care for the other.
I think pity stands apart from and looks down on one who suffers. We know that WE would not have taken it so hard. WE would be over it by now. WE would never let that happen to us. So we extend what looks like care but is accurately received by the recipient as pity. No one likes to be pitied because none of us want to be seen as less than.
Compassion joins with. Pity sits apart. I like to think about the difference in both my behavior and in peoples’ responses to my times of trial. I hope to provide compassion more often than pity.