Empathy and Compassion

June 30, 2018

There is a difference between empathy and compassion. If our goal is to understand then we empathize. If our goal is to care then we feel compassion.

Recently I've been considering the nature of relationships as complex systems. In the complex domain the advice is generally "Probe - Sense - Respond". In the context of relationships this might mean observing how someone behaves under certain conditions and categorizing the responses. It is usually impossible to predict what this person will do but in retrospect we are able to draw insights. My suggestion was that this is an essential human skill: Empathy.

We often confuse empathy and compassion. After reading this article I thought to highlight the difference:

  • Empathy is about the pursuit of understanding other points of view, it helps us develop better relationships because it enables us to navigate. Empathy is more about developing maps.
  • Compassion is a word that implies an emotional connection with others without shifting our POV. Compassion is more about acknowledging the intrinsic value.

The article argues that we should insulates our logic from our emotion, i.e. develop your compassion for others, not your empathy.

I believe, it is a question of our intentions: if our goal is to understand then empathy is more of the correct word (and behavior). If our goal is to care about other people then perhaps compassion is the better word.

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