Sunday, March 15, 2009

"Compassion doesn't mean pity"

Dh & I have become huge fans of Bill Moyers' Journal on PBS. It's on Sunday mornings on our local PBS station, although I believe it's on Friday nights most other places. It features long, in-depth interviews with thoughtful, well-spoken guests that sometimes run for the entire hour -- something you'll never see on network television.

His guest this week was Karen Armstrong, a former British nun who has written extensively about religion and society. Her current project is the Charter for Compassion, a multi-faith project which recognizes and promotes the Golden Rule ("Do unto others") as a common thread running through all major world religions.

Right near the beginning of the interview, I sat up & grabbed for a pen to take notes when Armstrong said this:
"Compassion doesn't mean feeling sorry for people. It doesn't mean pity. It means putting yourself in the position of the other, learning about the other. Learning what's motivating the other, learning about their grievances."

How often have I said, or heard other bereaved parents or infertile couples say, "I don't want pity. I HATE feeling pity from others." What we all want, I think, is some genuine compassion -- to feel that someone is listening to us, at least trying to understand us and what we are dealing with. Being respectful of our experience. "Abiding with us," as Mel at Stirrup Queens has said.

Armstrong feels that compassion is sadly lacking in today's world, and is trying to do something about it. If only there were more such people!

You can read about Armstrong, watch a video of the program or read a transcript at Moyers' PBS site, here.


  1. I *love* Armstrong. If you've never heard her interviewed or read one of her books, I highly recommend it. She's a treasure in explaining clearly to the masses without condensation and with the utmost of respect and reverence. Truly a treasure.

    And given all that, I had never heard this! I'm off to check it out. thanks Loribeth! (I just wrote on someone's blog last week: "Pity Sucks.")

  2. that's exactly right. I certainly don't need to feel any more pitiful, but an ounce of compassion extended can go a long way to feeling understood and supported. thanks.

  3. I love that quote. I assure you that there are such people - they read you all the time. I love that "Abide with you". It just means your sitting right next to that person holding their hand just listening to them, being with them.

  4. I am so bookmarking this post! Thank you for capturing the sentiment I have struggled to convey...

  5. I just found your blog through your comment in the virtual lushary.
    the quote you have by Joseph Campbell is one of the most beautiful things I read in months. Thank you.

  6. I'd love to share with you something I read at my mom's funeral about compassion. If you have an email, I'll send it to you. It's a pdf and too long to write here.

  7. That is a wonderful quote. I am glad i found your post. So, so true. I think that is what we are trying to teach people through our blogging. That is why i started my non profit