Compassion and Empathy – Do we still know what that means?

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Throughout the years Egyptians have been consistently described as being hospitable, kind, fun loving, compassionate and part of a culture and an environment that is tightly knitted together, ready to lend a helping hand to whoever needs it; or to express this in other words which would come out of a feeling vibrant heart. A person could easily say in any given situation something like: I feel for you; a statement truly exuding feelings of warmth and care. However, lately it seems that the dynamics of relationships in society and the way people deal with each other and the pattern they follow in reacting to the misery and troubles of one another has taken a complete detour, thus changing what was always expected and counted on; a certain quality of being able to quite simply understand nothing more and nothing less. So, let us ponder a little bit on whether we have lost feelings of compassion and empathy forever, or is this just a phase that will in the future be long gone; or it could conveniently be the way of the world as represented by the turbulent human condition.
The word “compassion” comes from Latin meaning “to bear with”or “to suffer with”,and according to dictionary definitions: compassion is a strong feeling of sympathy for people who are suffering and a desire to help them. Likewise, empathy is derived from a greek root that means “in feeling”or “feeling into”, and according to the dictionary: empathy is the ability to understand another person’s feelings and experiences; thus requiring a willingness to receive, digest and hold the experiences and problems of others with an open heart and a thoughtful mind and with no harsh judgements and stern reservations. It is an obvious fact that human beings have been endowed with numerous gifts and qualities that enable them to survive and make a living, but they have also been given the gift of feelings and emotions and the ability to interact with each other and stand by one another in times of need. Nonetheless, it seems that qualities the likes of compassion and empathy sometimes do slip away or waver a little on our list of priorities. Nowadays, you feel that people no longer care, and they are always on the verge of bursting in your face. Never mind about expressing compassion and empathy towards a relative, friend, acquaintance or whatever; the trend now is that most people are busy with their own lives and problems and totally immersed in their own misery or happiness to actually cultivate the least bit of interest, need or energy to show anybody else feelings of compassion, which is a fundamental aspect of the human condition.
To be compassionate is to not only the ability but also the willingness to go beyond one’s self interest in order to attend to the needs of others which is somehow an active choice creating in us a need to want to alleviate the suffering of others. Displaying feelings of compassion and empathy has become just that, a sometimes moving display. I sometimes feel (and this is my purely personal conviction) that people in Egypt nowadays when faced with a situation where they need to stand by someone’s side showing compassion, understanding in difficult times; then they do it as if it is just another thing that they have to check off their to do list so that they can carry on. I know and believe that people act in a certain way for reasons not just out of the blue. People lately have been caught up in their own lives with all its complications, that they do not feel the need or significance to disrupt their routine or showing compassion which would be a ticket to intimacy and vulnerability. The dramatically increasing insanely fast pace of life, and the amazing advances in technology and means of communication has in a way stood as a barrier in the way of expressing genuine feelings of compassion and empathy. I mean you can now easily console a grieving friend or express interest in the lives of people close to you be it acquaintances or relatives to give them the comfort they need quite easily over the phone or via the magic of the Internet. Sometimes being there for someone mourning the death of an acquaintance, friend, or loved one has become a sort of automated response adopted to please the crowds and to maintain a certain social image. Seriously, we do not even take the time anymore to listen to one another or try and feel for the suffering of others. Believe me, I am not claiming moral superiority here over anybody, and I need to admit that at times I have failed to be compassionate towards others due to a desire not to completely show that I am vulnerable.
Compassion and empathy are not part of a short term agreement, but they are a long term commitments originating from a genuine desire to be there for eachother ready to listen, understand and relate to what is being said. Here is a thought that just occurred to me, at times compassion and empathy are lost within the hearts of all and not only in a strictly personal vicinity. Sometimes on TV I watch officials carry on talking about when there is a problem or something has gone wrong; then the whole matter boils down to people being able to practice some sort of control or act in a more civilized manner; well let me just say this what about not being so judgmental and practicing a sense of compassion instead? Why do we always insist on being so judgmental and critical when placed in a position of giving advice to someone, when all what is essentially needed is showing that one cares and putting ourselves in other people’s shoes? Do not worry and relax as I am sure we still have the ability to be compassionate towards others in us and we do use it at times, so we just simply need to use it at all times. We are not living in the world isolated but as part of a society where life and love are created through fruitful and genuine human relations that meaning and significance to our hectic lives. Here is a little something I will leave you with that Simone De Beauvoir the French author and philosopher said “one’s life has value so long as one attributes value to the life of others, by means of love, friendship, indignation and compassion.”
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