Chapter 1

Sympathy

October 30, 2015

Compassion

1 However selfish man may be, his nature has pity or compassion which=

  • interest him in the fortune of others, and
  • render the happiness of others necessary to him, even if he only gets the pleasure of seeing that happiness

Pity or compassion is our feeling for the misery of others. We often derive sorrow from the sorrow of others. The virtuous and humane feel it most sensibly. The greatest criminal has it too.

2 We have no immediate experience of what other men feel. We can only have an idea of how they are affected, by conceiving what we ourselves should feel in the same situation.

If our brother is on the rack, our senses will never tell us of what he suffers. Our senses can never carry us beyond our own person. Only by our imagination can we form any conception of his sensations.

Imagination can represent what our own sensations would be if we were in his situation. Our imaginations copy only the impressions of our own senses. By imagination=

  • we place ourselves in his situation,
  • we conceive ourselves enduring the same torments,
  • we enter into his body,
  • we become the same person with him,
  • we form some idea of his sensations,
  • we even feel something similar, though weaker.

His agonies finally begin to affect us when they are brought to ourselves and made our own. We then shudder at the thought of what he feels.

Pain or distress excites the most excessive sorrow. To imagine pain or distress excites sorrow proportional to the intensity of the pain or distress imagined.

The Source of our Compassion is our conception of the pain of others

3 This is the source of our fellow-feeling for the misery of others. We are affected by what he feels by changing places with the sufferer, in imagination.

  • When we see a stroke aimed on the leg of another person, we naturally draw back our own leg.
    • When it falls, we feel hurt by it.
  • When a crowd gazes at a dancer on the slack rope, they naturally writhe and twist their own bodies, as they see him do.
    • They feel that they themselves must do if they were in his situation.

Sensitive people complain that they feel an uneasy sensation when looking at the beggars’ sores.

  • They conceive a horror at the misery of those which then affects their own bodies.
    • That horror arises from conceiving what they themselves would suffer if=
      • they really were the beggars they are looking at, and
      • that part in themselves was actually affected in the same way

The force of this conception is enough to produce that itching or uneasy sensation in their feeble frames.

Strong men feel soreness in their own eyes in looking on the sore eyes of others. It comes from the same reason – the eyes are more delicate in the strongest man.

Fellow-feeling, as sympathy, drives this conception into Compassion

4 Circumstances that create pain or sorrow are not the only ones that call forth our fellow-feeling. A feeling springs up in us that is analogous to whatever feeling arises in the observed person.

  • Our joy for the deliverance of heroes is as sincere as our grief for their distress.
  • Our fellow-feeling with their misery is as real as our fellow-feeling with their happiness. We enter into their gratitude towards their faithful friends. We heartily resent those traitors who injured, abandoned, or deceived them. In every emotion, the bystander’s feelings always correspond to what he imagines would be the sufferer’s feelings.

5 Pity and compassion signify our fellow-feeling with the sorrow of others. The meaning of sympathy was perhaps originally the same with pity. It may now denote our fellow-feeling with any passion.

6 Sometimes, sympathy may arise merely from seeing another person’s emotions. Sometimes, the feelings seem to be transfused from one man to another, instantaneously and without knowing what excited them. For example, when grief and joy are strongly expressed in anyone, the other people are instantly affected with a similar emotion.

7 However, this is not universal with every feeling. There are some feelings which excite no sympathy. We are disgusted at them even before we know what caused them.

The angry man’s fury is more likely to make us angry at him than at his enemies. We do not know his provocation so we cannot=

  • bring his case home to ourselves, and
  • conceive similar passions

But we see the violence awaiting the people whom he is angry with. We readily=

  • sympathize with their fear, and
  • go against the angry man

8 Seeing grief and joy in others gives us grief and joy because they suggest that person’s good or bad fortune. The effects of grief and joy terminate in the person who feels them. Unlike resentment, they do not give us emotions that target another person. The general idea of good or bad fortune, therefore, creates some concern for the person with that good or bad fortune.

But the general idea of provocation creates no sympathy with the receiver of that anger. Nature teaches us=

  • to be more averse to anger and resentment until we know its cause
  • to fight anger.

9 Even our sympathy with another person’s grief or joy is always extremely imperfect before we know its cause. General lamentations, which express only the sufferer’s anguish, make us curious about his situation. It makes us sympathize with him slightly.

Our first is= What happened?

Until this is answered, our fellow-feeling is not very considerable, although we are uneasy from his misfortune.

10 Therefore, sympathy arises more from the situation which excites it.

We sometimes feel something for another person which he himself does not feel, because such feeling arises in our breast from our imagination [our samskara] when we put ourselves in his case.

We blush for the rudeness of another because we feel ashamed if we had behaved in the same way, even if he did not even know the impropriety of his own behaviour.

11 The loss of reason is the most dreadful of all conditions. People have deeper sorrow for a person’s loss of reason than any other. But the poor wretch who has no sense of reason, laughs and sings, insensible of his own misery. Our anguish for him, therefore, cannot be the same anguish that he feels.

The observer’s compassion must all arise from his consideration of what he himself would feel if he had the same situation.

12 A mother feels pangs when she hears her baby crying. In her own mind, she joins=

  • the idea of her baby’s helplessness to the baby’s actual helplessness
  • that helplessness with her own experience of helplessness

From of all these, she forms the most complete image of misery and distress. The infant, however, feels only some uneasiness.

  • Its innocence is an antidote against fear and anxiety.
  • When it grows up to be a man, its innocence will be replaced by reason and philosophy which will defend it from fear and anxiety

The Dread of Death Arises from Our Sympathy with the Dead

13 We even sympathize with the dead. The real importance in the dead’s situation is that awful futurity which awaits them. But we overlook this.

We instead are affected by those circumstances which strike our senses, even if these circumstances have no influence on the dead’s happiness. We think that it is miserable to be=

  • deprived of sunlight
  • shut out from life and conversation
  • laid in the cold grave
  • not be thought of in this world
  • removed from the memory of their dearest friends and relations

Surely, we imagine that we can never feel too much for the dead. Our fellow-feeling gives double tribute to the dead when they are in danger of being forgotten by everybody.

  • We pay vain honours to their memory.
  • We try to artificially keep alive our sad remembrance of their misfortune, for our own misery.
  • We think that=
    • our sympathy cannot console them and that this adds to their calamity
    • all we can do is unavailing
    • even the alleviation of their friends’ distress can give them no comfort.

All these increase our sense of their misery. However, the happiness of the dead, most assuredly, is not affected by these. The thought of these things can never disturb their repose. Our imagination naturally ascribes the idea of endless sadness to the dead. This idea arises from us putting ourselves in the dead person’s situation, by us lodging our own living souls into their dead bodies. This gives us the idea that our death is so terrible to us, which then makes us dread death.

The dread of death is one of the most important principles in human nature.

  • It is the great poison to one’s happiness.
  • But it is also the great restraint which protects society from mankind’s injustice.