I’ve been trying to get my thoughts together on the difference between pity and compassion. We all know the difference when we feel it. We might sometimes enjoy a pity-party, but compassion is much more helpful.
Most all of us are taught that we should be kind and compassionate to others. Few of us learn how to be kind and compassionate to ourselves. Perhaps we think being hard on ourselves will whip us into shape, get us to work harder, grow a thick skin or just deal.
My guess is that it helps us avoid pain. Admitting our disappointment, hurt feelings, lost hopes, grief or helplessness makes us extremely vulnerable. A vulnerable person deserves compassion. When we don’t allow ourselves to be vulnerable, all we have access to is pity.
I don’t know how this sounds in your life, but it can go like this for writers:
The publishing business is so unfair to writers. I have to wait so long to hear back from editors and agents. So much of my books success is out of my control. There’s no other job like this. That’s pity.
Compassion might sound like this. I’ve poured out my soul, revised again and again, and now I’ve sent it off to someone who might not like it. That’s really hard. Especially because I have this tiny hope that they’ll love it. Every rejection is so personal and painful.
It takes courage to be a writer. Especially when you have to wait so long for the verdict--will they or won’t they? But lots of people don’t have control over aspects of their work. Doctors? Third grade teachers? Waitresses? We’re all in this together. We go to work each day and stuff is out of our control. I can focus on what I can control and make my best effort. Yes, it’s hard. I’ll let myself have a good cry, and then I’ll get to work.
Pity: my critique partner totally missed the point of my story. She probably just skimmed it. Maybe she’s jealous because I write better than she does. That agent I met last spring didn’t get my writing either. I deserve better.
Compassion: Wow. I thought my writing was so clear. I thought this was the best story I’d ever written. It’s painful to realize it wasn’t as good as I thought. That means more work. It’s hard to keep going, hard to keep believing in myself when I get no outside affirmation. But I know writing isn’t easy for anyone. Even the most successful authors have moments of disappointment and isolation. It doesn’t mean I’m a poor writer or a bad person. These painful feelings are part of the process. I’m going to allow myself to be sad today. Tomorrow I’ll give that story another try.
Pity is an emotional response based on fear and misinterpretation.
Compassion has been defined as coming alongside another human being. The passion at the end of the word means that, somehow, the heart is deeply engaged. What do you say, we try to deeply engage our hearts for our own benefit? Life serves us some pretty crappy stuff now and then. If we can’t show ourselves a little compassion, it’s pretty hard to show it to others.
Agree? Disagree? What do pity and compassion look like where you live and work?Photos courtesy of Flicker. License here.
I'm fascinated to discover little-known history, stories of people and events that provide a new perspective on why and how things happened, new voices that haven't been heard, insight into how the past brought us here today, and how it might guide us to a better future.
I also post here about my books and feature other authors and their books on compelling and important historical topics.
Occasionally, I share what makes me happy, pictures of my garden, recipes I've made, events I've attended, people I've met. I'm always happy to hear from readers in the blog comments, by email or social media.