Sensitivity to another's distress or hardship combined with a desire to help alleviate it.

Compassion is somewhat passive or at any rate preliminary to action; related active virtues include care, consolation, and kindness.

Complementary virtues

Contrasting vices

  • being uncaring
  • being unfeeling

Virtues possibly in tension


How to acquire or strengthen it


Notes and links

Mentioned elsewhere


Inspirational quotes

  • “You can hold yourself back from the sufferings of the world, that is something you are free to do and it accords with your nature, but perhaps this very holding back is the one suffering you could avoid.” ―Kafka
  • “People who groan under the heavy pressure of adverse fate, who are persecuted by the malice of men, reduced to poverty, neglected, or have strayed from the path of truth and virtue, have a just claim to our compassion, and ought to be treated with kind forbearance and humanity.” ―Baron Knigge
  • “Shun not the scenes of human misery, nor flee from the abode of distress and poverty; for if we desire to be capable of having compassion for the sufferings of an unfortunate brother, we must be acquainted with the various scenes of misery which this world exhibits.” ―Baron Knigge
So if we think, “Well, what goes into compassion?”, it includes the quality of empathy, the quality that when we see someone suffering, our heart somehow trembles with that, almost like we take it in through the air. And our heart moves with that suffering. That’s what we call ‘empathy,’ ‘suffering with.’ Compassion includes empathy. It includes this giving. There’s a giving aspect of compassion.
It includes equanimity, a kind of steadiness in the face of suffering. That has to be something that’s an essential aspect of compassion. It can’t be blown over by suffering. So equanimity is a factor of compassion.
Wisdom and understanding – we have to actually understand suffering in order to help alleviate it. Kindness, the quality of acceptance, of listening, of holding – all these are part of compassion. Opening. Joy, too, is a part of compassion. Humour.
And with all that, it’s also important to realize that compassion is actually not just a feeling. Lovely as that feeling may be, when it’s there, that we feel with another, we feel with another being, and how beautiful that is – but actually, compassion cannot just be a feeling. It has to be more than that. And if we just reflect on times when we’ve been involved in helping people or doing some kind of service work, whatever, it’s never this complete, endless, and uninterrupted flow of lovely feeling. There are going to be times when you’re just doing the work because that’s what needs to be done. You don’t particularly feel anything in the heart, may be even irritated at something. But compassion has to be bigger than the feeling. ―Rob Burbea