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What is the Meaning of Compassion?

Updated on February 19, 2013

Basic Meaning of Compassion

According to, the word compassion is defined as:

"a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering."

It is that pain that swells in our stomach when we watch a homeless person walking the street, an elderly person struggling to make it through the store without help, or an innocent who has suffered at the hands of sickness and evil resolve. It is the burning we feel at the back of our eyes when we observe an injustice. Compassion is a form of love. It is, in it's simplicity, a sort of global altruism when we feel it for humans and non-human animals who are not a part of our daily lives. For some of us it is only reserved for a select few.


Why Do Some People Lack Compassion?

There are different types of people who lack compassion. Some people lack compassion because they are incapable of feeling certain human emotions. Brain disorders, brain damage, early-life trauma or emotional neglect, etc., these can result in someone feeling apathetic to another person's needs. Compassion can be learned and unlearned, based upon a variety of environment, psychological, and biological means; though, arguably, some people are completely incapable of ever learning it.

Other people lack compassion because they are blinded by their own ego. Their needs supersede the basic needs of others, and sometimes they justify lack of compassion by pointing out the flaws of others, through religious and/or social ascriptions and subscriptions, or all of the above. This models social sickness.

It can be in a person, and can be observable within an organization or bureaucracy through discriminative action when the needs of leaders bleed to the common man. Some might say the core of capitalism is void of compassion, but that void can be found just about anywhere where there are nations who profit off the suffering of others, bound and disguised in policy as something other than what it is.


Why is Compassion Necessary?

Some people don't think it is. I would argue that in order to feel complete in the human realm, to love is necessary. One cannot truly love another without compassion. The only love that exists without compassion, is self-love. And while many enjoy the idea of loving the self and not others, it's empty. Self-love, alone, never truly fulfills; it is a black hole. People who only love themselves are spiritually broken. Paradoxically, the more compassion and love we feel for others, the more love we can feel for ourselves. This is an all-encompassing love that can bring spiritual wealth and happiness from within. True compassion and love of others brings enlightenment...where the line between self and others begins to blur.

Buddha taught compassion. Jesus taught compassion. Mother Teresa taught compassion. Muhammad, Ghandi, and Bahaullah, all taught the importance of compassion in one aspect or another. Even Atheists/humanists teach compassion. Compassion exists within and without doctrine.

Compassion is necessary because it helps us thrive, inside and out. At its deepest level, it applies to our appreciation of all life: our planet, the plants and trees that feed us, and the soil that nourishes our food. It applies to our brothers, sisters and children, and that Divine seed that is within all of us.


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