Let us begin by agreeing on the meaning of compassion. Adding to a standard dictionary definition, it seems clear that compassion includes the act of feeling and showing sympathetic caring for the suffering and misfortune of others. Some may use words such as “feeling sorry for others” or “having pity for them”. It may not matter so much, as long as we take action to help others through their difficulties. Problems can occur when we think we are  responding with compassion, based on our assumptions about what they need. That is a topic for another time.

We live in troubling times. Over the past several years, much has been said about the extreme polarization of opposing groups in the United States. We have come to identify people not as individuals, but by the groups we think they are part of. White, black, Hispanic, male, female, old, young, left-wing, right-wing, etc. If we think of ‘those others’ being so much unlike us that they don’t respect us, and they dislike us, we are unlikely to view them as allies; eventually, they become the enemy. If the discord escalates to that point, it is easy to take the next step, which is to conclude that we have the right to hate them. The more we feel that our opinions and emotions are supported by our own group, the more we wish to be seen by our colleagues as highly committed to our position. That tempts us to a desire for status within the group; and it can make things much worse. The individual who succumbs to that temptation may feel compelled to shut ‘those others’ up, because they are ‘evil’. No longer seeing them as fellow human beings with families and problems and feelings, it is impossible to relate to them, much less have compassion for them. 

We can see that polarization leads to the error of stereotyping the ‘other’ group. But that is just one factor that destroys compassion. Another factor is that so many people, especially youth, seem able to relate to people on a superficial level, but not on a deeper level. Their dependence on cyber technology has produced an avoidance of face-to-face human contact. For example, it is now commonplace for clients arriving at my door to use their phone to say “I’m here”, rather than ringing the bell. Another example is that many communications from clients come via e-mail or text. People seem reluctant to use the telephone as a talking device, even when I ask them politely an repeatedly to call. Many of today’s youth view calling by voice to be rude; the polite thing is to text first, to make sure it’s okay to talk. Is this nuts?

So, what is the problem? The problem is that the lack of real human contact makes a person emotionally ignorant. Even some of my smartest clients have great trouble recognizing their own emotions and understanding the emotions of others. When this becomes the norm, say goodbye to compassion. 

Have you ever felt that no one really cares about what you’re going through? That people, even some of your closest friends and family, seem absorbed in their own lives, and don’t have time or energy to reach out? Are you feeling alone? Or, on the other hand, have you noticed that you have lost the ability to feel for others? If compassion is missing from your life, there are a number of ways to address the problems that arise from it. Counseling is one option. If you’re curious to know how that could help, please do not hesitate to reach out. The phone number is (219) 309-3928. I’d be honored to be of service.

For more thoughts, click here Conflict # 51 – Empathy.

Thanks for reading!