compassion (n): sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress
together with a desire to alleviate it
Compassion is more than feeling sorry for the victims of an earthquake. It’s more than pity for sufferers of a disease of which you have no firsthand experience. The sympathetic consciousness of another’s distress is key.
sympathy (n): an affinity, association, or relationship between
persons or things wherein whatever affects one similarly affects
Compassion is relational. It involves entering into another’s painful experience to the fullest extent you are able and living it with him, attempting to alleviate his distress.
alleviate (v): to reduce the pain or trouble of something; to make
something less painful, difficult, or severe
It’s important to notice that alleviating pain and distress is not synonymous with fixing or removing the source of the difficulty. We may at times be called to alter circumstances that cause suffering, but often it is not within our power to do so, particularly in cases of physical or mental illness. Compassion does not enable us to calm the storm; rather, it calls us to battle through the storm with the one who is in the midst of it.
“If a man seems to himself to endure the horrors of
shipwreck, though he walks on dry land and breathes
clear air, the business of his friend is more likely to be
to accept those horrors as he feels them, carrying the
burden, than to explain that the burden cannot, as a
matter of fact, exist.” ~ Charles Williams, Descent