Compassion v. Pity

I despise pity, because it is an insult and an offense.  Pity says, “I’m better than you and I want to make sure that you know that I believe I am superior to you.”  Pity is about shoving someone further down than they already are and then trampling them just to make sure they stay down.  It’s sucking the life out of someone’s vulnerability and misplaced trust in you.  It’s lording it over someone.  It’s betrayal.  It’s rejection.  It’s abandonment.  It’s condescension.  But most of all, it’s fear.  Someone who pities me is afraid. 

Who knows what they are afraid of.  Maybe it’s the fear that everyone or anyone will find out that they are just like me, the person they are pitying.  Maybe it’s the fear of being authentic or the fear of being depended on or the fear of connection.  Maybe when they look at me, they see a need and they hate that need in themselves, so they attack me to avoid feeling their own pain of unmet needs.

Whatever the reason for their attack, their pity hurts me.  And their pity destroys our relationship.  Pitying someone is telling them that they cannot trust you to be in their mess with them.  Pity is the opposite of mourning with those who mourn, which is something Jesus calls us to do.  If you pity someone, then you are forgetting to be like Jesus, to show kindness and compassion to the broken and needy.

Jesus didn’t pity people.  He had compassion on them.  I realize some Bible translations use the word “pity” in describing Jesus’s response to people, but the word “pity” had a different meaning at the time of the translation.  Back then, pity meant compassion.  It doesn’t mean that anymore. The context of pity has changed to mean condescension instead of compassion.

So, what is compassion and how is it different than pity?  Compassion is kindness and empathy.  It is meeting people where they are, stooping down to their level and their situation.  It is humility and honesty.  It is being there with people even when we don’t know what to say or do.  It’s sitting with people in their pain and mess because just our presence alone is a huge comfort to those who are hurting.  It’s allowing ourselves to be present, connected and responsive.  It is letting ourselves connect to and express our own feelings about what someone is going through.  Compassion provides dignity, respect and honor to another, no matter their situation or circumstances.

Compassion is a response born out of love.  Whereas pity is born out of fear.  If you have been pitied or struggle with pitying others, then consider how you can respond with love and compassion.  Don’t give in to fear.  To be sure, process all your feelings about the pity, but don’t let pity and its offense be in control.  Acknowledge the offense and its impact.  Feel your feelings.  And forgive anyone who needs it – including and especially you.  Put the offense in God’s hands and trust him to apply justice and mercy according to His great love. And let Him heal your wounds and give you peace and relief.

When it comes to pity, love is the solution, the antidote, the healing balm.  Apply it freely and as often as needed.  Let love soak in and bring you the peace you long for. And let God’s love lead you to having compassion on the ones who pity you. (It is surprisingly freeing.)