What is compassion?

Sometimes, we must be compassionate. Other times, we should be encouraging. Most times, we should try to feel empathy.

What is the difference? What is most suited in what situation? This is what I want to try to find out in this article.
As with most of my writing, you might not get an answer, but an extra question.

I don’t write to teach, but to learn and discover with you.

According to the dictionary, compassion means:

“sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others.”

Literally, compassion means “to suffer with”.

Compassion is something we have all felt in our lives unless we are sociopathic. It is closely related to empathy, although there is a difference here.

Empathy is the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. It is a passive emotion. Compassion, on the other hand, brings us an emotion that compels us to help. It is an emotion that propels us to take action.

Encouragement literally means “to give courage”. Courage comes from the word heart.

To encourage someone means to give that person’s heart.

It is on a whole other level than suffering, although actively, with another being. There comes times in our lives, where compassion is the way to go. We welcome in someone else’s suffering, whether it is someone we know or a stranger. It is very important to cultivate that value, but it is also important to have strong boundaries so that we are able to suffer with that person without being pulled below the ground with them.

When we care deeply about someone, we wish we could take all the suffering from them. If your child is sick, you would gladly be sick in exchange for their health. Unfortunately (maybe), this is not how life operates.

In Stoicism, we learn not to be affected by what is outside of our control. This does not mean you should not feel emotions, and it certainly does not mean you should not feel compassion. What it means, is that you have the ability to observe these emotions, and act, with reason and within the realm of your own control (action is taken only if action is needed, of course, which is not always the case).

One of the actions that you may take when observing the feelings and emotions of compassion, is to give heart. To give courage. That may be by acting as an exemplar in your own life or taking extra action in helping someone. It is important to note, that encouraging someone, does not mean acting in their place.

We can consult, advise, inspire or motivate. We cannot replace the actions needed to be taken by that person.

That is not helping, and it is not giving heart, but taking heart. This is something that can be very hard to do, especially if we care very much about the person we are trying to help.

How this comes to play as a Life Coach

As a life coach, I always try to be mindful of these principles. It is my job to listen to people’s problems, and without the right frame of mind, it can be easily overwhelming to take in people’s troubles. If we don’t have a proper distinction between compassion and encouragement, we cannot last long. Strong boundaries are not enough. They are essential for my own well-being, but for my efficiency as a coach, I need more.

The trick here is to act as a guide. I do the best I can to remove my ego from the interactions and guide the person to his or her own solutions. No two situations are the same. I have found that I have much more success when I guide my clients, by giving them tips and encouragement than ready-made solutions.

Originally published at https://www.raphaelreiter.com on March 10, 2021.

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Raphaël Reiter

Raphaël Reiter

Continuously learning about life. Passionate about philosophy. Certified life coach and meditation teacher.