Compassion is our concern and regret for the suffering of others. Compassion is the opposite of cruelty—taking pleasure in the suffering of others—and of egoism—being aloof to that suffering. .[1]

Compassion is a way of thinking and being that results in a spontaneous readiness to act for the benefit of others.[2]

Pity is a sadness we feel as a result of another’s suffering. Compassion differs from pity because it is born of love and generosity toward the sufferer. Pity is a form of sadness; compassion can be a source of joy. Buddisht Monk Matthieu Ricard regards compassion as the route to deep and enduring happiness.[3]

Mercy forgives a person who is suffering because he has made an error. Compassion differs from mercy because it regrets the suffering, regardless of cause.

Sympathy is not compassion. Sympathy is a feeling, a sharing in the pain, while compassion is an action, a compulsion to do something to relieve the pain.

The Virtue of CompassionEdit

Compassion is the decision to become attuned to suffering. Philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer's moral theory proposed that of three primary moral incentives, compassion, malice and egoism, compassion is the major motivator to moral expression. Malice and egoism are corrupt alternatives.

The principle of compassion lies at the heart of all religious, ethical and spiritual traditions, calling us always to treat all others as we wish to be treated ourselves.[4]

Everyday CompassionEdit

The key to compassionate action is this: everybody needs someone to be there for them, simply to be there. [5]

Practice the virtue of compassion every day in these various ways:

  • Refuse to inflict pain on others. Instead, act to alleviate suffering.
  • Do not act or speak violently to others. Instead, show others your kindness.
  • Do not harass, exploit, or denigrate others. Instead, show others your respect.
  • Do not deny human rights to anyone. Instead, act to protect human rights for all.
  • Refuse to hate. Instead, practice the virtue of tolerance.
  • Pledge to follow the golden rule. Treat all others as you wish to be treated, every day.


  • Decide that you want to be kinder, more generous, and more compassionate.
  • Read and study the Charter for Compassion. Practice compassion as described in that charter.
  • Deliberately practice feeling compassion for various people in your life, especially people you find difficult or who seem different from yourself.
  • Find a volunteer opportunity, perhaps through the Points of Light Institute, or similar volunteer coordination organization, and begin helping.


  1. Comte-Sponville, André (2002). A Small Treatise on the Great Virtues: The Uses of Philosophy in Everyday Life. Picador. pp. 368. ISBN 978-0805045567. 
  2. Ricard, Matthieu; Daniel Goleman (2007). Happiness: A Guide to Developing Life's Most Important Skill. Little, Brown and Company. pp. 304. ISBN 978-0316167253.  Page 241.
  3. Ricard, Matthieu; Daniel Goleman (2007). Happiness: A Guide to Developing Life's Most Important Skill. Little, Brown and Company. pp. 304. ISBN 978-0316167253.  Page 252.
  4. The Charter for Compassion, developed by Karen Armstrong
  5. Chödrön, Pema (2004). Start Where You Are: A Guide to Compassionate Living. Shambhala. pp. 240. ISBN 978-1590301425. 

Further ReadingEdit

Students interested in learning more about the virtues of compassion may be interested in the following materials: