Compassion is a great word involving our intellect, our emotions and our actions.

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

Compassion means so much more than pity. Pity is a feeling of sadness, but can stay as a feeling and is soon forgotten. It can be quite condescending.

Compassion means more than sympathy. Sympathy means, “feeling with” somebody. When someone is sick we express sympathy but there may be nothing we can do about it.

Compassion means taking action as well, otherwise it is not compassion.


Compassion is personal. We cannot feel compassion for a country. If we are to show compassion for the disadvantaged living in another part of the world we need to see them as real people with the same needs and the same dreams as us.

Being aware of statistics does not itself produce compassion. One of the things that my fist trip to developing countries did for me was to change statistics into real people. Our efforts would not have a great deal of effect on the statistics but we could change the lives of real people.


We cannot be compassionate if we do not know that the need exists. A 15th century English gentleman man could not be compassionate about the plight about people living in Africa because he would be unaware. (But he could show compassion on most of his fellow countrymen living in extreme poverty at the time).

In today’s world we cannot avoid the television pictures of people starving in Africa. But we may well be unaware of the tragedy of 20,000 children dying every day of preventable diseases. But to know real compassion we need to aware that those suffering are real people, just like us, with the same hopes and aspirations for their families.


We cannot know real compassion without it effecting our emotions. The above definition has the phrase, “deep sympathy and sorrow”. If compassion were just in the mind, our response would be limited. Emotions can be manipulated but when we are also mentally aware of the facts, emotion is a powerful force urging us to take action.


In the end the difference between compassion and sympathy or pity is the “strong desire to alleviate the suffering”. Without action all we have is knowledge and emotion. We need to take action in order for compassion to be complete.

Direct Action

If the need is a local need then appropriate action might be to do something about it ourselves, personally. If we are talking about an overseas need it may be to go as an aid worker or volunteer to help people directly.

Our Resources, time and money

When the need is far away, direct action may not possible or practical. People seeking to meet the need directly still need our resources. Giving money is one way of being compassionate as we partner with overseas agencies involved directly with people in need.

Raising awareness and political action

One way to be compassionate about the needs of others is to make other people aware of the needs. This may involve political action to make our politicians aware of how passionate we care. Politicians will only take action when they are aware of a mass of people crying out against injustice.

Are we going to rise to the challenge?

  • To open ourselves to be aware of the needs.
  • To see statistics are real people just like us.
  • To feel deeply the emotion of those needs.
  • To do whatever it takes to meet those needs.

Then we can truly say that we know the full meaning of compassion.

Author: George Dowdell

I was the founder of Karuna Action (formerly Kingscare) and was the director for 24 years. I have now handed control over to younger people but continue as an advisor and trustee. My passion is to see extreme poverty eliminated and to see justice for the powerless.

One thought on “Compassion”

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: