Sunday, December 30, 2018

No, you don't feel their pain

Some of our users are interested in the difference between empathy and compassion. Compassion refers to both a feeling and the action that stems from that feeling, while empathy tends to be used just for a feeling. ~ Merriam Webster

The Canadian journalist David Warren explores the difference:
“What,” a gentle reader asks, “is the alternative to empathy, if human relations are not to sink any further into barbarism?” 
To which I smoothly reply, “Compassion.” 
It is, to my mind, the Christian alternative, and worth exploring, the more because it is active not passive, and does not involve hypocrisy, lying, constant virtue signalling, &c. 
One may shut up about “feeling your pain,” and instead do something about it. If nothing “medical” can be done — and this is more often the case than we will admit in our technological enthusiasms, though we do have some effective painkillers today — there is still the possibility of visiting the afflicted; of “being there”; of being servant. This has been known and promoted in the Christian tradition, lo these last two-thousand-ish years. 
I am deficient on this point myself, but discovered as my parents were dying a whole hellish world of oldies abandoned even by their own children, and in the care of semi-trained professionals, only some of whom were kind and conscientious. And now the policy is to encourage “euthanasia,” quite openly instead of quietly as a crime. 
Compassion for a sick dog is nice, or for sick children is a great fundraiser, but the knowledge that suffering is real, and that human suffering is unique — that from conception to lights out on the deathbed we are the earthly embodiments of immortal souls — has been undermined. Something of a misconstrued “Buddhist” attitude, that values compassion not to the human, as such, but to “the sentient” in general, seems to lie behind our current indifference to the unborn and the comatose, and by extension to “low quality of life.” God has given us a world to take care of, but too, specific people to take care of, regardless what shape we find them in. And some of these we never met, but are thrown in front of us by surprise. 
Compassion is not an emotional condition, a piece of pop psychology, as empathy is. It requires an objective analysis of duty; not an “I feel,” but an “I ought.” If you happen to enjoy the company of the very ill, the charmlessly mad, the dying, then good for you, though I may think you are a bit strange. Or, a bit holy, if you have developed the capacity to see Christ in the most unlikely faces. (God does provide the means, when He suggests the end; and His Joy in the most appalling circumstances.) 
 People like to feel good about themselves. I do, for instance. They like to think they are “good people,” and that that is more important than a bag of doctrines. But God also gave us brains for reason, not only to be cunning animals, but for moral purpose. It is often necessary to think things through. The philosophy of “feelgood” will not stand many moments of conscious thought. Modern empathy is part of that sprawling, incoherent philosophy.
“I feel your pain!” 
“No you don’t.” 
“How can you know I don’t?” 
“Because I am not you. And you are not me.” 
That is the sort of thing one can know. In compassion, this great truth is recognized. In empathy, it is ignored.
And John said unto Him, Lord, knowest that I love thee. Jesus saith unto him, Feed my sheep. ~ John 21:17

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