What Does Compassion Mean?
What does compassion mean? Its dictionary meaning is: a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering. 1 A more concise definition: a sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it. 2
Human beings are social animals. We laugh at humour, frown at one sided criticism, and cry at agonies, of ours and others. In funeral, we gather together, hugging and reminiscing the memory of the departed. In a birthday party of a friend or family, our genuine cheers, claps and singing the chorus with others wishing a happy birthday lighten the mood of the birthday boy or the girl. In a wedding we celebrate the beginning of a marital life of a couple with hearty gestures and smile. When our favorite sports team win a vital game, soccer, cricket, football, or any other thrilling sports, we jump up and down and scream with the loudest and shrillest voice of ours, as if without our shriek and shout, the game is not complete. And when the same team loses in a lopsided or nail biting close game, we mourn the loss as our own personal loss.
Perhaps there is an evolutionary reason behind compassion. In 1871, father of evolutionary science, Darwin considered sympathy as the strongest of humans’ evolved instincts, stating that “sympathy will have been increased through natural selection; for those communities, which included the greatest number of the most sympathetic members, would flourish best”.
Unlike Darwin, some scientists found compassion as part of evolutionary process perplexing. For many, natural selection process supposed to be super selfish, so the idea that the evolution prefers compassion over antipathy or hatred, by helping others without the slightest gain to the self, seemed not possible. However, the story of life, from antiquity to presence retells the assertion of Darwin, reaffirming wise words written in books of forgotten time.
Being emotional is part of humanity, and is perhaps the same in wider living world. Our heart starts pulsating with vibrant rhythm of joy seeing our loved one’s smile and happiness. Tears flow out of our eyes watching a dying beloved struggling with pain and last breaths. So helpless we feel facing the never changing human condition, mortality and extinction.
Human emotion, its swinging, ups and downs are documented and studied many years. Like unbounded kindness that humanity can bestow toward fellow beings in the time of their grief and misfortune, cunning exploiters use the same raw emotions for the purpose of selfish gains. Though the method and demeanor of exploitation may vary from time to time, if one studies the patterns available in recent and historical events, it may become clear that the repetitious arrangement and executions of inciting hatred and violence have no other end goal except to continue the anti-evolutionary cycle of creating meaningless strife.
Nations and states had gone through wars and conflicts from the earliest recorded time of humanity. Slowly, humanity started realizing the steep human and economic cost associated with violence. Societies became more open. Previously frowned upon freedom of speech became the bedrock of progressive and successful nations. Suppression and curtailments of thoughts, ideas and writings that might not conform with the conventional wisdom of the day became less frequent, and in present world almost non-existent in prosperous nations.
And why not? The more free and democratic a nation is, the more progress it can make attaining economic gain by allowing more collaborative and cooperative environment where no ideas, thoughts, writings, movies are blocked or censored. Yes, there are disgusting and reprehensible ideas that the exploiters may try to use to string and pull the gullible fools for their mostly short term selfish goals. However, the wondrous natural selection process, evolution has a way to root out the plunderers and violence seekers and inciters.
To build trusts and more cooperation, nations exchange emissaries and ambassadors, for mutual benefits, as these diplomatic careerists play positive role sharing the goodness of their respective nations with each other. Protecting these diplomats, even in the time of volatile emotions, is the fundamental basis of humanity’s progress from blind savagery of ancient time.
Compassion means benevolent response to other’s sufferings. A suffering can arise from deaths of loved ones, or dehumanizing any group of humanity or their beloved creed. There will always be exploiters who will probe, test and execute devious plans of incitement, to stoke more anger and distrusts among nations. There will always be misguided ones who will try to blame one vulnerable group for the nation’s or the world’s collective trouble. And there will be compassionate ones, who will be able to see through murky smokescreen to decipher the badly crafted fiction from a changing and albeit progressive reality.
A compassionate response is a necessity and a must in the face of growling fib.
- Compassion definition in online Dictionary.com: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/compassion
- Compassion definition in online Merriam-Webster dictionary: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/compassion