An article on compassion by Charlotte Hays appeared in the Vancouver Sun 21 March 2009, titled:
Compassion may be a little more complex than we think.

Some extracts follow:

As a dictum on how to lead our lives, the Dalai Lama has offered this: “If you want to be happy, practice compassion.”

“Compassion and wisdom are the two virtues universally affirmed by Buddhists,” according to the [Buddhist] encyclopedia. Ganden Thurman, executive director of Tibet House in New York, assures me that Buddhist compassion and western compassion are pretty much the same thing. But I can’t help thinking that western thinkers, specifically the Christian ones, treat compassion a bit more gingerly.

But I was to discover that compassion, a western traditional virtue or not, is far more interesting than its warm and fuzzy reputation … might suggest.

Our English word compassion comes from [Latin] compassus …. Compassion means “suffering with” — com (with), and passus (suffering). … Only the hard of heart can fail to respond to the plight of another, but something more than a human emotion seems to be required to elevate the mere feeling of pity into the sublime — a desire to alleviate the suffering of the other, or perhaps even a desire to take upon oneself a portion of that suffering.

Compassion is similar to sympathy … But in our world, sympathy is somehow weaker than compassion. We have Hallmark sympathy cards, but I have yet to see a Hallmark compassion card. … Empathy is several notches down from either…While nice enough, empathy won’t make much difference in the world.

Hospitals have risen and the sick have been nursed, the poor fed and slaves freed because of compassion. A friend suggested to me the other day that William Wilberforce, the member of Parliament whose deep compassion and religious faith (he was an evangelical Christian) led him to become an abolitionist and ultimately to succeed in outlawing the slave trade, should be considered the father of English compassion. Wilberforce’s compassion extended to animals — he was also a leader in founding the animal protection movement that eventually created the Royal Humane Society … Those of us whose lives are enriched by feline or canine companions must always remember to show compassion for them but not to allow this compassion to degenerate into sentimentality.

Charlotte Hays is editor of In Character, a publication of the John Templeton Foundation, where this article first appeared.

The full article appears here: