It’s the 80th birthday of the Dalai Lama and the friends of the Dalai Lama took this opportunity to launch the #withcompassion – campaign, supported among others by my mentor Gabby Bernstein, rap legend Russell Simmons, and the amazing Arianna Huffington. But the question is: what actually is the difference between compassion and pity?

First of all: often we are trained to commiserate and tend to confuse it with compassion. But here are 3 fundamental differences:

For the giver

When someone feels pity, he takes away the boundary between himself and the other person. He establishes an emotional connection, in which he is emphatically giving himself into the feeling of suffering. He is commiserating – and in this spirit co-miserable.

When someone feels compassion,  he can understand the situation of the other person and can take part in it, but is not emotionally connected to it. He is an affectionate observer.

For the situation

If someone is commiserate and suffering along with someone else, he is most likely not able to help, because he as well is in the middle of the suffering. When someone feels compassion, he is not helpless. It is clear that the live of the others is in need, not his own life. Therefore he can think about how he actively could offer help, in order to achieve direct results. While commiseration often leads to passivity, compassion generates activity.

For the receiver

To get commiserated, always implies to be weak and defenseless. No matter what situation is. Commiserations are often out of place, because even in a moment like this, weaker people would like to be seen at eye level.
Compassion however, is useful and supportive and usually causes active input to change the outcome of the situation. It leads to apply help in any given way and therefore can create quick and positive effects.

I know for myself that if I’m in a situation where I need help, I do not want commiseration, but compassion and active help. Therefore I actively deleted commiseration from my emotional palette and started writing compassion in capital letters.

“Compassion and love are not mere luxuries.

As a source of both inner and outer peace,

they are fundamental to the continued survival of our species.”

S.H.. the XIV Dalai Lama

How are you dealing with these emotions? Can you distinguish between the two? Is it easier for you to  feel commiserate or compassionate?