Pity vs. Compassion – Is One Selfish?

Language is a powerful tool, used to communicate with people. Words themselves carry immense power. The words we use, whether we are thinking to ourselves or speaking out loud, carry layers of context. A single word has the power to bring with it a whole set of underlying perceptions and feelings.

A single word can make a person feel invincible or extinguish their confidence. Take the word “pity” for example. Being disabled for twenty years, I have had that words, “What a pity,” said to me more times than I can count. Each time it had the same effect. It stripped me of my confidence.

When we are confronted with circumstances in life that highlight the challenges we face as human beings,  we have choices on how to engage with the person experiencing the challenge. Pity is not the way to go. Doesn’t matter if it is said to someone else or we say it to ourselves… it kills confidence. And during challenging times is when we need our confidence the most! Compassion is the way to go. Compassion fuels confidence.

I think pity and compassion are as different as winter and summer. The way they are spelled makes it easy to understand the difference between the two. If someone pities you, they hold you at arms length, or in a “pit.” This is done to separate them from you. This keeps you at a lower level then they are, as they look at you from up above. Being in a pit does not empower us with confidence!

If someone has compassion for you, the “passion” in their heart for their fellow human being makes them become involved in your circumstances. A person that pities you is similar to the doctor that gives you a pill for pain and that’s it. A doctor that has compassion not only gives you pain medicine, but listens to your fears, as well. When you share your fears, they become less powerful, and leave room for confidence to grow.

A person who pities you says to themselves, “Well, I’ve done what I can do.” They have met their obligation. A person that has compassion for you sees you through the challenging circumstances, that very well may be beyond their own comfort zone. They understand, however, what is more important. This allows you to see what is more important, s well. When a person makes you feel important, whether it’s you or someone else, again, your confidence builds.

People who pity you make you feel worse about your challenging circumstances than you already do. Even if someone has good intentions, how would they feel if someone said to them, “What a pity. What a shame,” about their life’s circumstances? At a time they need their confidence the most, it is instantly diminished.

Prior to writing this article, I did research regarding pity and compassion. What was the true difference, especially when they are used in society so interchangeably? What increased peoples confidence? What filled people with doubt? Did people who pity you have selfish intentions, or were they just afraid of how to react to your circumstances, therefore keeping you at arms length?

During my research, I found a healer who blogged about pity vs. compassion, and I love what she said regarding the end of her time on earth. I can’t think of   a time we need confidence more.

“When I’m coming to the end of my own journey here on earth, I hope there is someone who won’t just pity me and hand me a pill and say, “Call me in the morning”. I’ve got to get through the night, and so do those around me!

No, I want a compassionate response, someone who isn’t afraid of my crying, who will talk about anything or nothing, even laugh, as I make my peace and take my leave.”

I can’t say it any better than that.



  1. Ronnie Boniface says:

    As always great writing I see how pity and compassion are so very different!

    • I realized there was a difference between the two when I felt different, depending on which was used. Research educated me more, and also taught me a lot about the personalities of the individuals who used which action. Thanks for reading, xoxo

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