In society, people tend to speak of kindness, empathy, and compassion as if they are the same. They distinct and have identifiable qualities. Sometimes two go together. Even all three.
First, let’s clear something up. Being an empath serves no purpose. I was one and had to learn how to detach as it simply sucked the life out of me. Claudia Hammond, British psychologist and broadcaster, has stated that being an empath has no benefit. She runs The Kindness Project which examines the effect of kindness on our mental health. So if you are an empath please get help to detach from being a slave to your emotions. Codependence is often confused with empath, but we will not look at codependency here.
I have been ignored by empaths who think they are special but in fact they become useless to anyone and demand certain qualities in a prospective partner. No partner can be what they think they need and remain fulfilled in a relationship. They would be treading on glass with scant reward in return. An empath has a huge ego believing others who seek to help them to be idiots.
Kindness is anything from holding a door open to giving flowers, taking a parcel for a neighbor, offering to wait with a crying child until mommy appears and calling the police after ten minutes. Kindness takes many forms — thanking a menial job worker for what they do, to paying someones grocery bill or train ticket. No effort is required at all but the benefits to your mental health is invaluable.
The word “empathy” comes from the Greek word empatheia. The root of that word is pathos or feeling. The Greek prefix “em” means “in” or “to go into.” So, in empathy we go into the feelings of the other. Or, we recognise the feeling of another person and identify with them. This is important for someone who is grieving, made homeless, fallen over, injured etc. Empathy does not exhaust, but enables appropriate comforting or action like providing privacy in a public area. Nurses, most paramedics, etc, all use empathy to some degree in their jobs and kindness helps them be better at their chosen vocation. Doctors often lack empathy as their training is scientific and they see so many people. The Professor who saved my life was always kind, however, and I loved him like an uncle.
This requires effort. It is manifesting kindness and empathy while meeting a need. The parable of the Good Samaritan is of compassion. Ministering to the need of strangers or the unlovely, the angry, the dirty, and not letting the condition stop you. When I was researching my Ph.D. I worked in a recovery unit. I sat and listened to people who were still detoxing. They vomited in front of me, shook with DTs, or swore at me. My compassion enabled me to ignore this and carry on. Today, a young girl who declared herself missing was swearing at security staff who had to detain her to keep her safe because of her announcement. I was there taking flowers to the office as thanks for signposting me and and dealing with a difficult situation that I found myself in. I asked the girl to stop swearing so she then swore at me. I told her that as a mother I care about her and she must stop swearing. Eventually, I reprimanded her and she stopped. I explained that she was being kept safe because she had said she was a missing person, and until her parents responded she had to stay safe. I left but then noticed a group of young people who were behaving strangely were heading towards where she was. I headed back to alert the staff, and also told them to go away. I left saying the girl should be arrested at which point the chief of security said to her that if her behavior continued he would have to call the police.
Compassion does not always appear gentle. It is appropriate action at the point of need. The girl above got my compassion because I know she has not had good parenting. I have knelt beside a gravely ill man shouting his name to stop him dying.
Compassion has been afforded to me a few times. My Dad always was compassionate with few exceptions. No one is perfect. A Filipina cleaner had compassion to say hello to me when I had akinetic mutism. Finally, I was able to muster some energy and said hello in return. She squealed with excitement and thus my rehabilitation began.
I am hoping this article is helpful to understand what something is and what it is not. So many people use them interchangeably when they are separate deeds.
Published in PsycoLogically