Compassion, pity, and “empathy burnout”

TimesheetA dear friend, who recently experienced several weeks of unemployment, wrote that through this ordeal she noticed that, “sometimes people feel sorry for you, then they feel compassion, then they feel pity.” Her observation reminded me of the responses I received during my 14-month period of unemployment that stretched across most of 2010 and half of 2011.

Thinking on what my friend said, I affirmed that compassion is the highest form of “sorry for you,” the sort that comes from a person’s ability to identify with another’s pain, to identify with it as if it was one’s own, and to have some level of wishing to be able to make it better.

Pity is a looking-down-upon “sorry for you,” rooted in a sense of of superiority, lacking compassion, without the ability to feel- or even identify with another’s pain.

There is a third kind of reaction, too, which another friend called “empathy burnout.” I witnessed that as my unemployment dragged on, when some people became impatient and made unhelpful and unkind suggestions like, “Why don’t you apply for a job at TSA? They will hire anyone.”

To a large degree, one can choose whether or not to feel compassion, pity, or even empathy burnout. The higher self consciously chooses the former.

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2 Responses to Compassion, pity, and “empathy burnout”

  1. Maja says:

    I love you.

  2. Shay says:

    Aw! Dear Maja, you made my day. I love you, too!

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