Compassion versus pity

Compassion versus pity: What is the difference?

Compassion versus pity is two human emotions that both have similarities and differences. Compassion is the deep sympathy, sorrow, or empathy one feels for another individual or group of people suffering. Pity is a feeling of condescension for someone else’s failings. Let’s dive a little deeper into compassion versus pity.

Compassion versus pity

What is compassion?

Compassion is a feeling of deep sympathy, sorrow, and empathy for another who is experiencing pain or difficulties. Sympathy is the feeling that you would like to see or take action to help others in distress or distress itself. Empathy is the ability to understand what another person may be going through based on a personal experience. Compassion can be a physical sensation that you feel inside that pulls you towards helping another person in need. This can involve a number of other emotions such as sadness, pity, self-pity, nervousness, and insecurity. When you feel compassion for a person in need, it can cause a desire to help or support another person without wanting anything in return.

What is pity?

Pity is a feeling of condescension for someone else’s failings. It can be an expression of scorn or derision for someone who is inferior to yourself either emotionally or intellectually. A pity person may feel that they are superior to others due to their circumstances. A pity person may also feel that they aren’t good enough for another person. A pity person feels that another individual is somehow inferior to them and therefore deserve to be pitied. To add insult to injury, a pity person may add that it is their rightful right or destiny due to their inferiority in comparison with the other individual who they have decided needs ‘saving’.

What is the difference?

A pity person does not feel compassion for another individual. They feel that they are superior to that individual and therefore feel that they are entitled to show contempt, scorn, or disdain for another individual. A pity person may not be able to control their emotions and may act impulsively towards another individual who they believe is morally inferior. Since a pity person feels superior, they want to ‘show off’ their superiority by acting in ways that humiliate the other individual. Pity can also be connected to things like arrogance, disinterest, and judgment. A pity person may only see the faults of another individual without seeing any positives or strengths that person has.

Compassion is not connected to feeling superior to the other person. A truly compassionate person wants to help another person because they understand what they are going through. They do not require anything in return nor do they feel shame, guilt, or embarrassment for helping another individual in need. This can be a physical or mental sensation that fills you with overwhelming compassion for the person who is suffering. A compassionate person does not require an ego boost. They can still show compassion to an individual even if they are superior to them, without feeling the need to humiliate or degrade someone who is inferior to them.

Does compassion have more positive effects than pity?

Although pity has negative effects on others, it has positively affected some individuals in their lives. It can be argued that an act of pity can motivate someone to do something extraordinary in order to help another person in need. While compassion is not always positive, it doesn’t have negative effects on the bullied victim nor does it cause the bully to feel shame or guilt that they were wrong.

Does compassion inspire others?

Compassion inspires others to help a person who is suffering without a request for anything in return. When you show compassion, you are giving another person some form of trust. There is an understanding and a feeling of safety and comfort that goes both ways. Compassion can help someone else in need by giving them the courage to face their internal struggles in life. Whatever the struggle may be, there is never a justification for pity. They do not need your derision or judgement in order to change their life for the better.

How to show compassion without falling to pitfalls of pitty

There is no excuse for pity. Anytime you want to show compassion towards someone, remember that it is never necessary to look down on a person in need or to humiliate a person who is weaker than you. To show compassion, simply help another person in need without expecting anything in return. Here are 5 tips that can help:

1. Ask them how they are doing.

Instead of saying ‘you look like you need a hand’, say ‘how are you doing today?’. If they don’t want to answer how they feel, ask the classic question ‘can I help?’. You can then work on ways that you can do something to help them without feeling pressured for them to give you permission.

2. Help without expecting something in return.

In this day and age, there are endless ways you can help another person in need without feeling guilty about it. You may want a quick way to help a person who is homeless or in debt. There are many charities that will help you for free to do the right thing without expecting anything in return. This can be a form of compassion that can inspire someone else to do the same thing for someone else in need.

3. Remain compassionate with and without them knowing.

If you can remain compassionate and understanding with someone even if they don’t know your name, they will feel the same way with you. You can help another person with something as simple as a kind word or helping them find their lost keys even if they don’t know why you’re helping them. This way, the other person knows that you’re doing something nice for them without expecting anything back in return.

4. Take action instead of pitying the person.

If you see someone dwelling on their problems or feeling sad, take action and do something to make them feel better. Do something like helping them clean their house or cook their favorite meal. Use your compassion to help them by giving them a ‘personal spa’ day by treating them with pedicures, massages, facials, etc. Talking about the problem may not help relieve stress for the other person so it can be helpful to take action instead of just talking about it.

5. Show compassion to the person.

If you see someone in need, show compassion by helping them with something like taking them to a job interview or helping them move. Compassion can help reduce stress in another person by motivating them to get up and do something instead of dwelling on their problems. Do something that motivates, inspires, or encourages that person into doing something about their problems rather than just talking about it.


Ultimately, there are similarities between compassion and pity because they are both emotions that involve another person in some way. Pity is connected to arrogance, superiority, and judgment. There is never an excuse for pity. A person in need doesn’t want to be ridiculed for their weaknesses. Pity has negative effects on the person who shows it, the victim of it, and everyone else who hears about it. Pity can actually inspire someone else to act in a courageous way towards change in life, whereas compassion can help people heal emotionally without any desire to ‘show off’.

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