Compassion vs Empathy
Updated: Dec 17, 2021
Ever wondered how it would be like to be a bat? Or an elephant? Or a famous person? Of course, I don’t really know what that feels like. In fact I only know how it feels like to be me, because that’s all I’ve ever been… and of course, by “I” I’m referring to the universe as centered in the particular time, space and activity (dynamic pattern), often referred to as Julen.
Because of our limited understanding through reason alone, I’ll never truly be able to comprehend how you see the world. Even if we’ve known each other since we were drooling baby monsters, even if we share the same parents and were raised under the same household, we are still condemned to view reality from our own vantage point — unless you can get your hands on a “Point of View Gun”, or like, have the sharingan or somethin. However, it just so happens that we do possess a really effective tool for simulating another's experience. It’s called Empathy (meta cognition).
This is a very important quality in the survival of our species. A pro-social behavior that allows us to cooperate and strengthen interpersonal bonds which are the backbone of our “success”.
It’s fascinating because it's a reminder that, despite the incredibly diverse way in which the universe expresses itself — in this case as the human organism — there is still something we all share which is commonly referred to and experienced as “I”, which seems to be essentially the same at the very core of our species and presumably most other sentient beings with a complex enough nervous system (or perhaps it precedes that— a topic for some other time).
Empathy even extends beyond the boundaries of our own species. We can feel empathetic towards stuffed animals or even chairs (stick some goggly eyes to one and you’ll see what I mean) for Pete's sake!
Needless to say, empathy is tremendously important and needs to be evoked and, dare I say, demanded way more from people, especially those in positions of power and influence.
Now, as much as I acknowledge the importance, and encourage the cultivation of empathy… I had to ask; is there such a thing as being too empathetic?
If you are an empath (like yours truly), sometimes being too empathic can certainly be crippling. When you get overly invested or affected by how others feel, then it can end up disabling you as well.
Which is why it’s so important to learn how to transmute empathy into Compassion. (informed empathy). This is an insight I first gained from the great author and overall human; Elizabeth Gilbert! Something kinda clicked.
This idea really resonated with me because more often than not, I tend to over-empathize, to my detriment. I sometimes feel too much of what someone else is feeling, which is just messy. Even if you really want to help, sometimes if you are too invested, you can get sucked into the vortex.
If, on the other hand, we are able to tap into compassion, we can create a bit of separation and ground ourselves, which enables us to be much more effective and actionable. Instead of getting swept into the whirlwind of emotion, we can learn to become more of an anchor, and in turn, be of better help.
Now, in order to effectively tap into compassion towards others, I believe an essential requirement is to unlock compassion towards oneself. After all, we can’t sustainably aid others if we are lacking.
Ummm okay… but how? There’s no straightforward answer. Ultimately it’s about befriending oneself. To be kind to oneself, to be patient. And honestly the best, if not only way, I can think of is through really understanding oneself. Where we come from, how we were raised, the cultural heritage that has been passed on to us. Why we are as we are.
Sometimes, it can be the case that the best we can do for someone, for example, is to step back.
Obviously it isn’t black or white. I’m not saying that until you've perfectly worked yourself out (not gonna happen anytime soon) you can’t help anybody else. The world would be burning (more) if it were so.
Indeed, one of the most fulfilling and satisfying things we can do is to help others. I don’t know why but at least it’s been true in my experience. Test it for yourself and see if it’s true for you too.
When we are of service, we not only help others but we essentially help ourselves. All I'm saying is to be mindful of our own well being so as not get burnt out, resulting in either resentment or exhaustion and thus being less of service.
There’s no straightforward answer. We must learn to befriend oneself, to be kind to oneself. To be patient. And just how you become friends with anyone else, it can only come about through understanding, through trust and respect… yeah I know, easier said than done.
It’s an ongoing journey. Baby steps.