Your Opinion: Defining love, compassion
Wednesday, December 14, 2011
In previous letters I have said that to communicate clearly, even common words need to be defined. However, sometimes I have not followed my own advice. A case in point is my frequent use of the words “love” and “compassion.” The reason for this letter is to make up for that oversight.
But first, the reader should keep three things in mind:
• Over time my understanding of these two words has changed.
• I do not offer my current definitions as a guide for others to follow.
• I readily confess that while I try to live by my beliefs, my failures far exceed my successes.
Because there are many kinds of love (such as family, friends, chocolate, etc.) there are many definitions. Leaving all of this aside, I want to focus on what I consider to be the “love” that surpasses all other kinds of love.
Let me begin by comparing the words love with compassion. While they are often used together, they have very different meanings. Compassion (a noun) is a feeling: Love (a verb) is an action. Compassion does not feed the hungry. It is an act of love that provides the food. As I see it feelings, like thoughts, are not good (nor evil) unless they are acted upon.
Although compassion is a good feeling that can motivate me to do loving deeds, it is not as powerful as empathy. Empathy causes me to want for others what I would want for myself
Because love is something I do, not something I feel, to be guided by love is to think first of what I can do to meet the needs of others.
Whether or not I like “others” or they like me, or whether or not we think alike, is irrelevant. I am required to want for them what I would want for myself. That includes forgiveness. If I cannot forgive, I cannot love.
If my reason for doing good deeds is either because I hope to be rewarded or because I want people to admire my goodness, I am guided by self-interest, not love. As noted above, my record in this regard reveals that I need to do much better. Perhaps, with more practice, I can improve.