Let’s start with an elemental understanding of what the words “compassion,” and “compassionate,” mean to most people.
According to Merriam-Webster, compassion is a noun, defined as: “sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it.” Some synonyms for compassion are: commiseration, feeling, and sympathy.
Compassionate is an adjective, defined as: “having or showing compassion: sympathetic.” Some synonyms for compassionate are: beneficent, benevolent, benignant, good-hearted, humane, kind, kind-hearted, kindly, softhearted, sympathetic, tender, tenderhearted, and warmhearted.
We see that sympathy/sympathetic is common to both words. So what does sympathy mean to most people?
Merriam-Webster defines sympathy, a noun, as “an affinity, association, or relationship between persons or things where whatever affects one similarly affects the other.” Some synonyms for sympathy are: commiseration, compassion, and feeling.
Sympathetic, an adjective, is: “existing or operating through an affinity, interdependence, or mutual association.” Some synonyms for sympathy are: commiserative, compassionate, empathetic, empathic, humane, and understanding.
Note that the words empathetic and empathic finally show up in the mix. So let’s look at two more words: the noun empathy and the adjective empathetic.
Empathy is defined as: “the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner.”
That definition is a bit complicated! Bear with me. Let’s dispense with synonyms, in order to make the ideal of empathy easier to understand in and of itself.
Here’s what the adjective empathetic means to most people: “involving, characterized by, or based on empathy.” Again, let’s dispense with synonyms.
It’s worth contemplating the “difference” between compassion and empathy at this point. Merriam-Webster suggests compassion is the broader word. It refers to an understanding of another’s pain and the desire to somehow mitigate that pain. Compassion tends to refer both to a feeling and to an action which results from that feeling.
Empathy refers to the ability to relate to another’s pain vicariously, as if one had personally experienced that pain. Empathy refers to a feeling, but it’s not necessarily related to an action.
Now we’re getting down to brass tacks. Merriam-Webster doesn’t, of course, “underline” the word action. I chose to underline it, and I will capitalize it here because of its absolute importance.
ACTION is what makes the difference between a city which is merely empathetic and one which is truly compassionate. Compassionate cities and communities are those which TAKE ACTION. They don’t merely “feel.” Rather, they ACT upon their feelings.
The feelings of a city/community, are, of course, a function of the feelings of the individual residents thereof. While most people in a given city or community may feel they’re indeed compassionate, most have “room for improvement” in personally taking compassionate actions for benefit of their making “where they live” be the best it can be.
Virtually all of “our” cities and communities have an elemental level of empathy and compassion for others. But they typically don’t take sufficiently strong and continuing action to address the various issues which bring the feelings of empathy and compassion into play in the first place.
We tend to acknowledge them, yes. But then we tend to ignore them — hoping “someone takes care of this” (but not me).
My own city of Salem, Oregon is typical of most cities. We have a lot of really compassionate people living here. They take their compassion to the level of action — through their donations and volunteer efforts. Unfortunately, their numbers pale in comparison to those who, though they may have a sense of compassion, don’t significantly act on it.
In a nutshell, my idea of a compassionate city or community is one which is extremely ACTIVE in addressing and eradicating injustice wherever it exists — and in whatever form it exists.
I encourage all cities and communities to create and act upon their own “Community Ethic.” The Community Ethic will be common to the community, representing what the people of the community choose to stand for — and what they choose to stand against.
Communities are composites of the people who live there. People are the parts, and their communities are the sum of those parts. Like individual people, communities are at their best when they identify and live by certain values, attributes, and goals. Cities are at their best when the communities within them do the same.
Consider this scenario — one which justifies the adoption of a Community Ethic: When communities permit “their” kids to be hungry and/or food insecure, suffering and injustice take place — in one of the worst of all ways. This is terribly harmful to the children and an abominable blight upon the community as well.
A Community Ethic could include a phrase like: “We the people of this community will not permit our children to suffer either of the twin scourges of hunger and food insecurity. Such suffering is insufferable here.”
To assist cities and their individual communities in their goal to become ever more compassionate, my wife and I wrote a short but compelling booklet — as a gift to Salem — and to the “world community” at large. It’s called GoldenRuleism/Living A GoldenRule-Guided Life.
The booklet speaks to “Two Principal Principles,” both of which are built on the universally known and respected moral and ethical precept known by many as “The Golden Rule.” Both principles dramatically expand the application of the “original” Golden Rule.
GoldenRuleism can serve as the foundation upon which the Community Ethic is built — from which a Compassionate Community is built — from which a Compassionate City is built.
The booklet is not for sale. I’m not trying to make money with it. I offer GoldenRuleism at no charge to anyone who’d like to read it.
The Charter for Compassion is “introducing” the booklet as part of its “22 Days of Compassion Campaign,” beginning March 14th, 2022, so please check it out for yourself and the others in your life.
In the event you’d like to take a look at GoldenRuleism, and consider sharing it with family, friends, and business associates, here’s the link: GoldenRuleism/Living…Life.
Thank you for reading my article. Please do whatever you can, whenever you can, however you can, to make YOUR community and city shine brightly — via the guiding light of compassion!
~Craig Cline is an advocate for humans and all the other sentient beings on our one-and-only Mother Earth. He’s a supporter of nonprofit organizations in general, and especially supportive of those in his local community. He’s written many articles for publication by newspapers and nonprofits. Most recently, he wrote a booklet titled: GoldenRuleism/Living A GoldenRule-Guided Life, with the assistance of his Editor-In-Residence wife. They hope this short but compelling booklet will come to be seen by the majority of people on the planet. Craig’s premise is: if people the world over adopt the booklet’s two Principal Principles, we’ll collectively “Move the Needle of Humanity Towards Humane-ity.”
©Excellence Reporter 2022
Categories: What Makes a Compassionate City?