The word ‘compassion’ is derived from the noun patient (one who suffers) from the Latin patiens, and is akin to the Greek noun pathos. The prefix ‘com’ means together or common. So compassion literally means “to suffer together”.
Modern researchers in emotional intelligence define compassion as the feeling that arises when you are confronted with another’s suffering and feel motivated to relieve that suffering. Although closely related, compassion is not the same as empathy or altruism.¹
While both compassion and empathy include understanding the emotional state of oneself or another, compassion has the added desire to reduce that suffering.
Empathy, as defined by researchers, is the visceral or emotional experience of another person’s feelings. It begins with emotional contagion, the mirroring of another’s emotion, like tears coming when we witness a friend’s sadness.
Altruism is an action that benefits someone else, which may or may not accompany feelings of empathy or compassion, for example in the case of a donation made for tax purposes.
Although these terms are closely related, they are not the same. Compassion goes a step further. Although empathy and altruism are key components of compassion, compassion is the emotional response to the perception of suffering and includes a real desire to help.²
The good news is, scientists tell us that we can train in both self-compassion and compassion towards others.³
If you wish, you can do that right now, with this 15-minute practice of Loving Kindness.
¹ from greatergood.berkeley.edu
² from psychologicalscience.org
³ from ccare.stanford.edu