Why It’s So Hard To Be Compassionate

Written by on December 22, 2014 in Emotional Mastery, Self-Care



Compassion for our fellow man sounds like such a noble endeavor, and yet there are a surprising number of stumbling blocks when it comes to putting it into practice.

You see compassion requires the willingness to go to that place where feelings of weakness, vulnerability, and loneliness reside.

It’s seeing through the illusion that we have total control over our actions and acknowledging the truth that we are limited, imperfect beings who are impacted by things over which we have little or no control – our genes, early family history, culture, life circumstances.

The reason authentic compassion is so hard is that our inherent response to suffering is to either flee from it or find a quick cure.

If you doubt that, the next time you see a homeless person on the street take a moment to observe how many people pretend to ignore their existence; even those who extend charity by offering a bit of change will rarely make eye contact let alone offer a smile or word of kindness.

Then there’s the viewpoint held by many that by showing compassion we are somehow letting others off the hook for taking personal responsibility for their life.

And finally, there’s the “you go first” attitude exhibited by those only willing to extend equal measures of compassion to what they have first received – either in reality or perceived.

The Nature of Compassion

Let’s be clear that compassion is not the same as pity. Pity is looking down on and feeling sorry for the suffering of another and then moving on. Compassion is intrinsically concerned with the alleviation of suffering – our own and that of others.

Authentic compassion spurs us to take responsibility not only for those we wish to help but for our own actions.

Research has shown that those among us who are compassionate are far better at achieving goals, as well as correcting our mistakes and misdeeds, meaning that we can see ourselves more clearly and do what’s needed to make things better.

Ultimately compassion is genuinely caring about the welfare of others, but it’s also about recognizing …

  • There may be more than one right answer.
  • Every person carries some emotional baggage or old wounds.
  • Our opinions and attitudes are colored by biases.
  • When we harm others, we also harm ourselves.
  • We are imperfect and making a bad choice doesn’t make us a BAD person.
  • We each bear the responsibility to rise above pettiness and hatred and “be the world” we long to live in.
  • We must learn to be compassionate with ourselves before we can be authentically compassionate toward others.

Compassion is not the occasional grand gesture, but rather a way of life.

Inspirational Insights on Compassion

Fear grows out of the things we think; it lives in our minds. Compassion grows out of the things we are and lives in our hearts. ~Barbara Garrison

Look into your own heart; discover what it is that gives you pain, and then refuse, under any circumstance whatsoever, to inflict that pain on anybody else. ~Karen Armstrong

Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around. ~Leo Buscaglia

I am driven by two main philosophies: know more today about the world than I knew yesterday and lessen the suffering of others. You’d be surprised how far that gets you. ~Neil deGrasse Tyson

Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It’s a relationship between equals. Only when we know well our own darkness can we fully relate to the darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity. ~Pema Chödrön

No one truly knows what they will do in a certain situation until they are actually in it. It’s very easy to judge someone else’s actions by what you assume your own would be if you were in their shoes. But we only know what we THINK we would do, not what we WOULD do. ~Ashly Lorenzana

If your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete. ~Siddhartha Gautama

Every single person in this world is wounded and struggling in their own unique way. If you can allow yourself to completely see that, you will open the door to unlimited compassion and love, which, by default, will lead to genuine and authentic forgiveness. ~Jenifer Wardowski

Simplicity, patience, and compassion are your three greatest treasures. Simple in actions and thoughts, you return to the source of being. Patient with both friends and enemies, you accord with the way things are. Compassionate toward yourself, you reconcile all beings in the world. ~Tao Tzu

Sometimes things happen that make no sense at all, you ask yourself how a person can intentionally hurt another living thing – which is more a statement of disbelief than a question. All we can hope for is that our collective voice against the inhumanity of the few and our universal desire to live in a compassionate filled world extinguish the fire of hatred others have spawned. ~Dodinsky

It is sad but true, some people will lie and cheat and even betray you. There will be people who use you and don’t love you even though they declare with all their might that they do. But you can’t let that stop you from living because there are people out there looking for you now who will love you fully and never hurt you. You have to remain open to find those people and when you do keep them in your life forever. ~Marquita Herald

Let today be the day … look for the good in everyone you meet and respect their journey. ~Steve Maraboli

A human being is part of a whole, called by us the “Universe,’ a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separated from the rest – a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circles of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. ~Albert Einstein

Self-compassion isn’t based on what you do for yourself in the up times, but on what you do for yourself in spite of setbacks, adversity, and failure. ~Author Unknown

You really are enough. You are full of joy and compassion. You genuinely want to make a positive difference in this world. You practice kindness. You work to understand and appreciate diversity. You are loyal, adventurous, supportive and strive to be better than you were yesterday. You are enough. You make mistakes – okay, sometimes a lot of mistakes – but you own them and you learn from them. You really are enough.

Today, the world is in greater need of authentic compassion than ever before – not only for those within our immediate circle of influence, or those who happen to agree with our opinions and social mores but every single living being.

Let today be the day you give up who you’ve been for who you can become.
About Marquita Herald

Marquita Herald

Marquita is an author, resilience coach and the chief evangelist at Emotionally Resilient Living. She’s also an unapologetic workaholic who loves red wine, rock n’ roll, road trips (and car dancing!), peanut butter cookies and (especially) a dog named Lucy.

She’s saddened and frustrated by excuses and cruelty and believes authentic compassion is the most powerful force in the world.

To learn more about Marquita and the mission of Emotionally Resilient Living click here.


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  1. Thank you for letting me know you found comfort in my article Marina. I’m truly sorry to hear about the flash back you’ve experienced as a result of your compassion for the Syrian refugees – even sorrier to say that I’m not one bit surprised. As to your question, I have a feeling that, like most things in life, others may inspire or even motivate someone for a time, but ultimately we each have to find our own way to discover compassion for our fellow man. Sometimes I read the comments being made in the news – especially by those running for office – and I just shake my head and wonder how people can become so callous and judgmental of others. Hang in there and know that there really is such a thing as the silent majority and many of us share your compassionate viewpoint.

  2. Marina says:

    Today I asked Google, why is it so hard to be compassionate? – all this motivated by the recent events in France and the reaction of a lot of people who support rejecting Syrian refugees. I feel that’s an inhuman thing to do and I’ve been called everything for standing up for the refugees. I understand that I also must feel compassion for that person who disagrees with me and respect their opinion.. But how do you help others to find compassion? Is it even possible to ignite compassion in others?

    Your article helped me a lot. Makes me feel I’m not that crazy. Maybe.


  3. martyherald says:

    Welcome back Willena! You’ve made an excellent point about how we tend to mature into such behaviors as compassion, but I also believe that the seeds have to be planted early on for that to happen organically. There are far too many “mature” grouches in this world to think that age naturally begets compassion and charity. My own grandmother on my mother’s side was a prime example since was the most bigoted, selfish, mean person I’ve ever known – rest her soul. 🙂

  4. martyherald says:

    Thank you for taking the time to contribute to the conversation Michele, and I couldn’t agree more with your point about how so many of us view ourselves as separate from one another. Great observation!

  5. martyherald says:

    I’m so glad you found inspiration in the article and theme Donna, I always appreciate your thoughtful contribution to our conversations! 🙂

  6. Very insightful as always, Marty.

    “Compassion is recognizing…” Some of those things you mentioned come only with maturity, I think. At least, that’s what I’ve observed in my own children. They begin with a strong sense of what’s right and wrong… and then they begin to see there may be more than one answer… or at least more than one way a person comes to be the way he is. It’s been a joy to see my kids, one by one, come to that point without compromising their values. If we only had compassion for those who have similar values to ours, we wouldn’t be much help to anyone.
    Willena Flewelling recently posted…Week 13 – NARC and Fink and The Gal in the GlassMy Profile

  7. Yes, so true, so true! Compassion does begin with having compassion for oneself and realizing that we don’t have all the answers and that we can’t control everything. I have used that Pema Chodron quote many times. Compassion is certainly not pity. My book has a poem about compassion that takes yet another point of view regarding how we look at life. I believe that ultimately lack of compassion stems from the fact that so many of us regard ourselves as separate from one another. Black and white thinking is also why so many of us lack compassion.
    Michele Harvey recently posted…Better Eating Habits in the New YearMy Profile

  8. donna merrill

    Hi Marquita,

    What a brilliant post on Compassion! This is a topic that needs to be addressed. I like the example you had give about looking at a homeless person and then thinking how do you feel about that. I do feel compassion all the time. Sometimes that homeless person may seem a bit dangerous to me so I just say a prayer for them.

    I grew up Catholic and as a child, learned that Jesus lives in everyone. This is how, at an early age, I had obtained compassion in my heart. Now I’m not preaching or anything, just sharing how I’ve reached the state of compassion.

    When I had to take care of my father-in-law at hospice at home, I would get frustrated, even angry at times…not a pleasant experience. But what got me through all the time is looking into his eyes and telling myself Jesus was in there.

    That’s just how I get by with compassion.

    donna merrill recently posted…The 10 Best Ways To Blog in 2015My Profile

  9. You are right ,Marquita,but we can start and inspire others .You did a start ,by writing about 🙂
    Erika Mohssen-Beyk recently posted…The Benefits OF SproutsMy Profile

  10. martyherald says:

    Hey Chery, welcome back and thank you for contributing to the conversation. I’m glad you found the topic of value and enjoyed the quotes. 🙂

  11. martyherald says:

    Thanks for stopping by Jacqueline and sharing your thoughts on the article. I have been accused more than once of being naive but I believe most people are compassionate at heart. I am a “grassroots” kinda gal, so I never bother myself with thoughts of how to change the world, or our country, or even my home in the Islands. If I can influence a few people here and there along the way to become more self aware about their lives and in doing so learn to live with greater intention, then I will consider my efforts a success. 🙂

  12. martyherald says:

    I’m so glad you found value in the article Dave. For me the game-changer was the first time I chaired our county food drive. I was stunned at the lack of knowledge about the problem in our community, but harder still was coming to terms with a “hands-off” board of directors. Not one of them had ever actually participated in a food drive or visited the food bank facility, let alone gotten to know the staff outside of the director. Truth be told, I believe most of them felt serving on the board was their contribution to the effort. I am very happy to stay that there were a LOT of changes to the nonprofit, process and people involved after that year. As always, I value your thoughtful contribution to the conversation Dave.

  13. martyherald says:

    Thanks Tim, so glad you liked the article and I appreciate your taking the time to share your thoughts.

  14. martyherald says:

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts Erika. I do agree with you that compassion is a behavior that needs to be cultivated, I just personally believe there isn’t a lot that society as a whole can do to instill compassion within an individual – we must make that choice ourselves.

  15. martyherald says:

    Welcome Miriam, I’m so glad you liked the article and took the time to contribute to the conversation! Re your thinking about our stress-filled world, of course you are right that most people don’t mean to be selfish, but of course the point is that meaningful change starts with us – you know, that old quote about “be the change you want to see?” The reality is that when we pay attention to our lives and make the effort to live intentionally there is actually quite a lot we can do to eliminate those feelings of stress and burn out – the problem is most people find it easier to live with the baggage than to make the effort to change. Thanks again for stopping by! 🙂

  16. Miriam Slozberg

    Great post, and you are right. We all need to be more compassionate. At times I know I am not as compassionate as I should be. My thoughts on why there is not enough compassion in the world is that its not that people are intending to be selfish. I think this is a stress-filled world and so many people are burnt out. I am not making excuses by any means for them. This is just what my thinking is. However, great points you bring out and it does need to be put out there.
    Miriam Slozberg recently posted…The One Thing to Never do on Social Media During the HolidaysMy Profile

  17. Beautiful article ,Marquita
    I think compassion is something we have to cultivate more in our societies.
    The Dalai Lama said ;
    Love and compassion are necessities not luxuries.
    Without them humanity can not survive.
    We should more listen to our heart .
    Thank you ,this is very needed

  18. Mark

    What a powerful and timely thought Marquita!

    First of all, thank you for articulating the difference between pity and true compassion.

    And there is no doubt the world would and will be a much better place with more genuine compassion for ourselves and others!

    What a timely subject, because right now a relative and myself just had a rather awkward situation happen and now after reading your excellent and extremely timely post, it has lead me to take the more compassionate approach!

    And realize that finding room for true compassion in my heart is a far more appropriate and healthier choice! So thanks a bunch!

    I already feel better about my decision!
    Mark recently posted…So How Does Understanding How To Make An Omelette Make You A Better Internet Marketer?My Profile

  19. Hi Marquita,

    Thanks for sharing some of your quotes that are included in your book.

    I believe this passage hit home with me the most; “It is important to understand that compassion is not about making the occasional grand gesture, but rather a way of life, an attitude that becomes a part of everyday living.”

    I believe once you start showing compassion for others and yourself, it will become an everyday attitude.
    Monna Ellithorpe recently posted…Who Is Really At Fault?My Profile

  20. Kyle Holcomb

    I used to think that showing compassion or any other emotion made me seem weak. I was young and thought I was tough, so I chose to be emotionless towards most events or actions. In recent years, I chose to change and it has made a huge difference in my life. Your blog is great and the information is helpful. Thank you for sharing and have a Merry Christmas and safe holiday season!
    Kyle Holcomb recently posted…How To Make Money GUARANTEED!My Profile

  21. Beth Niebuhr

    You nailed it right on the head when you stated that compassion occurs when it is between equals. Not the attitude of pity which sometimes masquerades as real compassion. Wonderful, thoughtful article.
    Beth Niebuhr recently posted…How to Be SuccessfulMy Profile

  22. Wonderful thoughts on an important subject! Who was it that said “There, but for the grace of God, go I.”? That’s the one that reminds me how to be compassionate.
    Meredith Wouters recently posted…A Christmas WishMy Profile

  23. Erica says:

    I think we could all use just a little more compassion. You make a lot of really nice points. It is so easy to be judgmental of those that are different but it takes something special to be able to see life from another’s perspective. I knew a guy a few years ago who I watched go from a normal functioning member of society to a homeless person who I often found arguing into space. It was shocking and heartbreaking to watch, but it hit home how everyone starts as a basic human being and we are all similar at our core.
    Erica recently posted…Memories of Lost Loved Ones During the HolidaysMy Profile

  24. Mary

    This is so lovely, & inspiring me to e about my views on the subject, too 🙂 Merry Christmas! xo
    Mary recently posted…Let Us All Eat Cake by Catherine Ruehle.My Profile

  25. Donna Janke

    Great post. You’ve described what compassion is beautifully. I agree the world needs more compassion. Fortunately, as you’ve pointed out compassion “can be cultivated and strengthed”.
    Donna Janke recently posted…Staying Current During TravelMy Profile

  26. Tim

    A very timely post indeed Marquita and what a wonderfully reflective and thought provoking article to get us all thinking about what this time is all about. Thanks.
    Tim recently posted…Population OneMy Profile

  27. Dave

    “It is important to understand that compassion is not about making the occasional grand gesture, but rather a way of life, an attitude that becomes a part of everyday living.”

    I see people engaging in solitary acts of compassion, but as you have so keenly recognized, a lot of the time (not all the time), there isn’t true compassion in the process. Only when it becomes a part of our everyday life does it begin to weave into the very fabric of our being. That is perhaps what I took away most from this article – to make compassion a daily practice. Thank you 🙂

    Also, I did not fail to recognize the exemplary quotes slipped into this article – 5 bonus points since I’m feeling generous around the holidays 🙂

    Also, it is quite eerie how you bring up the story of a homeless man in your article – perhaps you will understand sometime tomorrow. Tomorrow is a Wednesday in December, after all 😉

    Seriously though, Marty, your article really hits home, and I have some very personal and real experiences to apply it to in my own life. Thank you for your always motivating and inspiring articles. It’s the perfect companion to my morning coffee 🙂

  28. What a completely wonderful post! I agree completely that our world is becoming less compassionate and though I think it goes hand in hand with people becoming more selfish, it’s difficult to know if it can be fixed. My experience has been that the people who have survived much strife seem to display the most compassion. It IS a way of life
    Jacqueline Gum (Jacquie) recently posted…Merry Christmas… Where’s The Justice?My Profile

  29. Matt says:

    I like how you expressed it here–one I wholeheartedly agree: … compassion is not about making the occasional grand gesture, but rather a way of life, an attitude that becomes a part of everyday living.

  30. Chery Schmidt

    Hello Marty, What an inspirational article, it is the perfect time of the year for this too..

    I just love all the quotes you have shared with us here today, this one truly go tot me

    “I have come to believe that caring for myself is not self indulgent. Caring for myself is an act of survival. ~Audre Lorde”

    I just spent 3 wonderful weeks with a very dear friend of mine and just hated to say our good byes last night..

    Yes it is Final.. She had been battling cancer now for 9 years and it is taking its toll on her.

    I do know deep in my heart and soul that her life is coming to an end, so when you talk about being Compassionate!!

    Yikes I sure do understand.

    Thanks for sharing. Wishing you and yours a Very Merry Christmas..

    Chery :))
    Chery Schmidt recently posted…Developing A Success Mindset Exercise ! Part 2My Profile

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