The Difference Between Pity and Compassion
The definitions of pity and compassion are similar, but the words have different connotations. Compassion is seen as a positive personality trait, while pity has negative associations. Pity implies labeling someone and defining him by events in his life; compassion acknowledges those events while still maintaining respect for the person.
Pity is a feeling of sorrow for what someone else is experiencing. If a person is injured, loses his job, breaks up with his girlfriend, has a death in the family or suffers any other kind of misfortune, the people who know him may be sorry for him and wish these things had not happened. Many people do not want to be pitied, because they find it belittling, while others seek pity, because they like the attention.
Compassion is a state of awareness of another person's situation, the feeling of sympathy for her and a wish to fix whatever is wrong. In many ways it is similar to pity, and it may result in similar behaviors, but it has some elements pity does not. A person can feel compassion for someone who is not immediately suffering. He can have compassion for those around him in his daily life simply by staying aware of what they are experiencing and being on their side.
Compassion is a more complex state than pity. A person who feels pity for the homeless may wish their lives were better and may become involved with rehabilitation efforts or food drives, but he maintains a distance from them and their situation emotionally. A person who feels compassion for the homeless may engage in the same charitable activities, but is more likely to actually talk to homeless individuals on the street. Compassion views individuals as people, whereas pity only sees their circumstances.
Because pity reduces a person to the bad things in her life and ignores the rest of her humanity, the word carries negative connotations. People who have been victimized sometimes do not want to tell people about their experiences because they are afraid people will begin to see them only as a victim; these people do not want to be pitied. Compassion, on the other hand, has connotations of nobility and gentleness. Compassionate people care about what happens to others, but they do not define them just by the negative experiences of what has happened to them.