In my opinion pity is the poorer relative of compassion… you may be familiar with people saying ‘poor you’ or ‘I feel sorry for you’ and ‘I am so glad I am not you’
These are never empowering or comforting to hear. We often hear of someone in distress and not know what to do, but giving somone only our pity can often make things worse. In my opinion, showing that we are impacted by their situation and expressing that the person in suffering is somehow lessened or diminished by their circumstances somewhat creates an imbalance within that relationship. By that I mean that the person saying ‘Poor you’ somehow gains an implied a sense of superiority (if only subconciously so). In positioning oneself in this place of superiority it can potentially lead to a sense of perceived helplessness for the sufferer.
I know that this is a pretty bold view point to take, least of all share, and a large number of people may disagree with me. But – hear me out.
Think about the widescale homelessness that we see all around us in the UK – I hear so many people saying ‘Oh those poor people‘ but so few are actually taking any action to make a difference. Or when there has been a natural disaster – how many actually take any action then?
I recognise that a limited number of people have the knowledge and skills, resources or the time to be able to combat widescale homelessness in the UK or fly out to Africa and ensure every child has access to clean safe drinking water and a meal… but the reality is that there is always something that you can do – no matter how small it is. We could all take action by doing things such as donating a quid here and there, giving money to the food bank or giving up a Saturday afternoon at the local charity shop. These small and simple things all add up if we all collectively decide to try and be better.
Thinking about those people around you and the individual battles – rather than ‘Poor you’ or ‘I am sorry for you’ – changing how you respond can make such a difference. Starting by asking ‘how can I help?’ and even if their answer is that there is nothing you can do – being present and actively listening can be a major relief to some people.
I feel like I have kind of gone of the MS theme in this blog post – but actually it ties in to how I feel sometimes. I don’t mind being offered the odd pitying phrase and look here and there when people dont know what to say – but that isn’t useful to me. Just by rephrasing a response from ‘Poor you’ to ‘how can I help?’ or ‘how is that for you?’ can change pity into empathy and compassion, and demonstrates the desire to take an action rather than just stand back in an assumed position of superiority.