Compassion over Pity

Adults in the Toddler brain often confuse autonomy with acting morally or intellectually superior, only to be surprised by the negative reactions to what they think is compassionate behavior. Their presumption of inequality — “I feel sorry for you because you’re incompetent, crazy, abusive, or personality disordered” — will make any sympathetic behavior come off as pity. To a large extent, pity is the opposite side of the coin from contempt. That’s why we hate to feel pitied but long for compassion. You cannot be genuinely compassionate if you believe you’re superior in any way. When heartfelt compassionate acts garner a negative response, you can bet that the behavior, however sincere, was construed as pity. In the Toddler brain, compassion often feels like pity, and pity often passes for compassion. In the Adult brain, compassion is transcendent, freeing us from the prison of self-obsession. We soar above by caring more, not by pretending to be superior.

— Steven Stosny, Soar Above, p. 189-190.

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