94 QUESTION: I’m just about to lose my closest friend. And I would like to be able to get to the point of having compassion and losing any kind of pity.
ANSWER: The answer is implicit in this lecture [Lecture #94 Sin and Neurosis – Unifying the Inner Split]. Find where you identify with this friend. What the friend experiences, you fear for yourself. The fear is repressed and therefore you can’t deal with it and accept it. Thus, it manifests in pity.
QUESTION: It is more the loss that I feel than identification.
ANSWER: It is also identification. Losing a dear one is a pain that has to be borne. In itself, it is a healthy pain that cannot weaken the soul, provided you go through it. But the additional element in your pain is fear. And where fear is, identification occurs. The nature of these two pains is different, if you probe your emotions. The quality of the pain of loss does not contain the fear, bitterness, self-pity, struggle and hardness contained in the pain of identification, in pity.
107 QUESTION: Can you elaborate on the difference between pity and compassion? As one gets older and sees so many of one’s friends suffer, what is the proper attitude?
ANSWER: I will be glad to give additional help on this question, if I can, although this topic has been repeatedly discussed in the past. However, if I were to say what the right feeling should be in theory, it would not help you at all. All you would then do would be to further manipulate your feelings and superimpose attitudes that are not genuinely yours. You know that this cannot possibly be a healthy procedure. It is important for you to acknowledge what you really feel, whether right or wrong.
In addition to what I said about the difference between pity and compassion, I now want to present an explanation indicating why one feels pity instead of the much more productive feeling of compassion.
Whenever you are crushed by the devastating emotion of pity, which inhibits your strength and the help you can give, you can be quite sure that you are somewhere negatively involved. For instance, pity may be a projection of your fear that the fate the other suffers may come to you. Or you may feel guilty about something you are not aware of.
A universal attitude is that of feeling a certain satisfaction at another’s misfortune, not only about not having to bear that same fate, but also about the other being punished and having difficulties. This is, of course, entirely irrational, but the attitude contains considerations such as this: “If others have hardship too, I am not so bad, I am not the only one who suffers, therefore I am glad that others suffer too.”
This reaction often produces such shock and guilt that it is entirely repressed and overcompensated by a weakening, unproductive pity. The pity, then, makes you feel absolved because in pitying you suffer with the other person, though in a destructive way.
If you can discover and experience your genuine reactions, recognizing that you are a human being with many unpurified emotions, with many childish, selfish and shortsighted attitudes – and learn to accept them without condemning, condoning or justifying yourself – then you can understand what misconceptions are behind these unreasonable attitudes.
Then they will gradually dissolve, to the degree you truly understand them. Pity will transform into compassion, and to give constructive help to suffering people will be possible, whether through action or just by communicating your true feelings.