I had a pretty jarring moment on the T the other day. I think most of us look at people when we're close to them in public spaces. We imagine their lives, and their thoughts, and their feelings. I often imagine that I might be good friends with someone I haven't even made eye contact with. And sometimes...I feel bad for people.
I was doing just that the other day, when I realized that what I was feeling was pity. And the person I was pitying didn't necessarily need it. I was assuming weakness, where there was possibly a great deal of strength.
And that's when I realized that there is a difference between pity and compassion.
Pitying requires assumptions. Assumptions that a person is suffering, or that they are somehow less than the people around them. Pitying makes us feel superior.
Compassion makes no assumptions. Compassion is about feeling love towards everyone, not just those we feel worthy of our pity. Compassion doesn't allow us to assume that the girl with the Prada bag has no problems. Nor does it allow us to assume that the guy in the wheelchair does.
Pity does not acknowledge human strength and resilience. Compassion is human strength.
Pity inspires emotion. Compassion inspires action.
Compassion is about treating other people as if we know nothing about them, but wish them love and happiness anyway. Pity has a lens. Compassion is blind.
I've always thought of myself as a very empathetic person, so it was difficult to admit that what I have often thought of as compassion has been pity. But then I had some compassion for myself as well. I guess there are worse things to feel than pity...apathy, maybe.
But here's my resolution moving forward. More compassion, less pity. And always love.