mindful moments

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.


  1. I'm really impressed at your ability to look inward upon yourself and be brutally honest - this post has been very honest and very refreshing

  2. You are special Clair. Not everyone can be that honest with their own feelings. Thank you for this post, helps me think about my own feelings.

  3. Oh, this is good. It really made me think, and I love when posts do that.

    I hope I am compassionate, but think i'll need to take a better look at myself next time I'm in a situation like that.

    The line that really got me is "pitying makes us feel superior". Because it's so true-- and I know it's something I've felt before. I love the thought of looking at people with a blind eye, seeing them as just a human instead of all the other thousands of things they could be... Or not be.

  4. Clair, this is absolutely beautiful and one of the most thought-provoking posts I've read in a while. I think far too often (and sometimes without even thinking) we look at others and instantly make a snap-judgement without knowing their full story. I love your take on pity vs. compassion - totally something to practice and live by!

  5. this was really insightful. I often see a lot of people in the city that are clearly going through somehing. the ones that I know aren't ok - the person secretly crying on the subway, the homeless man passed out on the runnin path (that was rough to see), all break my heart. I want to tell them it's ok and they're not alone and I just wonder how they got there. it's good to remind myself to use compassion on those that aren't so obvious. on everyone basically. thanks for sharing this thought.

  6. oh gosh, this hit me in all the right places. i totally relate to this. i like to think of people with their own worries and issues, rather than to pity them. i like to think we all carry the same backpack of issues. we all match. thank you so much for this.

  7. Beautiful words Clair....
    having been on the other side... (a person who was physically burdened with emotional and physical suffering and therefore easily pitied (probably) for some people....
    I know I looked sad,
    and could not just pretend to show happiness - as I physically could not F* smile!
    Struggles like that teach you so much!!!

    I have really opened up my eyes and my heart - and that grumpy lady at the check out doesn't bother me so much - I still say hello nicely - - she could be suffering underneath....
    I've also been given prescription drugs that make you swell up so much that you just look fat in a week! You just can't judge a body size, a grumpy stranger, or even an excited pulled together woman!
    We all have something underneath.... we all have some type of struggle on our path....
    Opening our hearts is a start to see it all with compassion, like you said... ;)
    Loved your honest words....
    Hugs! xo


Thanks for making me smile. =)