POINTS TO PONDER

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When you think of being compassionate for someone or having compassion on an individual because of what they are going through, that’s only half the story. Having compassion literally means “to suffer together.” Among emotion researchers, it is defined as the feeling that arises when you are confronted with another’s suffering and feel motivated to relieve that suffering. Compassion is not the same as empathy or altruism (selflessness), though the concepts are related. Therefore, the definition of being compassionate is showing kindness and empathy to others in an effort to relieve their suffering.

So, compassion is not just a feeling, it is an act of one’s will. That’s why we often hear it said, “They showed such compassion.” Thus, psychologist Emma Seppälä says we should not confuse compassion with empathy. Empathy, as defined by researchers, is the instinctive or emotional experience of another person’s feelings. It is, in a sense, an automatic mirroring of another’s emotion, like tearing up at a friend’s sadness. Altruism[1] is an action that benefits someone else. It may or may not be accompanied by empathy or compassion, for example in the case of making a donation for tax purposes. Although these terms are related to compassion, they are not identical. Compassion often does, of course, involve an empathic response and altruistic behavior. However, compassion is defined as the emotional response when perceiving suffering and involves an authentic desire to help.

Psychologist Heather S. Lonczak tells us that Compassion is as vital to life as the air we breathe. For in the absence of compassion, how many benevolent, selfless, and heroic deeds would have happened throughout history? She then lists a number of things about compassion that have proven beneficial. For instance, compassion promotes social connection among adults and children. Social connection is important to adaptive human functioning, as it is related to increased self-esteem, empathy, well-being, and higher interpersonal orientation.
And there are others. Compassion is related to increased happiness. Compassion is related to higher levels of well-being. Compassionate love is associated with higher patient survival rates, even after adjusting for social support and substance use effects. Patient-reported clinician empathy and compassion is related to increased patient satisfaction and lower distress. Brief expressions of compassion expressed by doctors are related to decreased patient anxiety.
Also, compassion has a mediating effect on the link between religion and aggression among adolescents. Stated another way, a relationship between religion and aggression was diminished among youths rated higher in compassion and self-control. Compassion-focused therapy is reported as a promising therapeutic approach for individuals with affective disorders characterized by high self-criticism.

Furthermore, compassion promotes positive parenting by improving parent-child relationships (i.e., more affection and less negative affect. Consequently, there are various mindfulness-based parent training approaches and parenting. Compassion within classrooms is related to increased cooperation and better learning. Compassion for teachers, as expressed by colleagues, is linked to increased teacher job satisfaction, organizational commitment, and a sense of emotional vigor.

 

Compassion expressed as a function of service work is related to improved health and well-being among volunteers. Self-compassion has a number of proven psychological benefits, such as reduced PTSD symptom severity, and lower levels of psychopathology in general. Self-compassion is linked to more positive aging. The combination of self-compassion and optimism is beneficial for depression-vulnerable people.

Low habitual self-compassion and high self-criticism are related to a higher risk of depression. Self-compassion is linked to various aspects of general well-being, such as Self-compassion reduces burnout and fosters important adaptive qualities among medical professionals. Self-compassion buffers the negative impact of stress. If you are still having difficulty in bringing the expression of compassion into focus, just think of Jesus of Nazareth and Mother Theresa.

As Christians, we must also be interested in finding out what the Bible has to say about compassion. The prophet Isaiah asks an intriguing question, “Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you.” [2] And the prophet Jeremiah states during a time of lamenting, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; His compassion never comes to an end.[3] Then the Psalmist adds his definition of God’s compassion, “But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.” [4]

And our Lord Jesus also was known for His compassion. Matthew tells us that, “When Jesus saw the crowds, He had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” [5] And in another place, Matthew tells us that “When Jesus went ashore, He saw a great crowd, and He had compassion on them and healed their sick.” [6]

The Apostle Peter also knew what compassion was, so he told his readers, “Finally, Be agreeable, be sympathetic, be loving, be compassionate, be humble.” [7] And the Apostle John was of the same mind when he wrote, “If anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet has no compassion for him, how does God’s love abide in him?” [8]

Last but not least, the Apostle Paul joins in by saying, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” [9] And to the Philippians Paul wrote, “Is there any encouragement from belonging to Christ? Any comfort from his love? Any fellowship together in the Spirit? Are your hearts tender and compassionate? Then Paul tells the Colossians,  So, chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline. Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense. Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you. And regardless of what else you put on, wear love. It’s your basic, all-purpose garment. Never be without it.” [10]

So, the next time you speak of someone as having compassion or even claim having been compassionate to a friend in need, remember compassion without collaboration is merely a thought without any feeling. And no one wants to be known as being such a person. The Bible gives us plenty of examples to follow. Therefore, prior to deciding on being compassionate to somebody, be ready to become involved. – Dr. Robert R Seyda

[1] Altruism is the behavior of a person that benefits another at their own expense.

[2] Isaiah 49:15

[3] Lamentations 3:22-23

[4] Psalm 86:15

[5] Matthew 9:36; See Matthew 15:32; 18:27; 20:34

[6] Ibid 14:14

[7] 1 Peter 3:8

[8] 1 John 3:17

[9] 2 Corinthians 1:3-4

[10] Colossians 3:12-13

About drbob76

Retired missionary, pastor, seminary professor, Board Certified Chaplain and American Cancer Society Hope Lodge Director.
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