Both kindness and compassion are human values that benefit society and are necessary for any thriving relationship. But are they the same thing? And what does it mean to be kind versus compassionate?
How is compassion different from kindness?
People often use the words kindness and compassion interchangeably, and to be honest, both qualities are essential to any successful relationship. But do the words mean the same thing? Not quite. While they are similar, they are different qualities. So it is vital to start with the definition and tackle how they play out in real life so that we can be more aware of what each quality looks like.
Kindness: Of good or benevolent nature or disposition
Compassion: Deep awareness of the suffering of another, coupled with the wish to relieve it
Based on these definitions, kindness is a character trait that defines who we are or an act we have done, whereas compassion is a quality that involves understanding a person’s suffering in a way that propels us to do something to help; it goes deeper than kindness.
A person displaying kindness might hear of an illness that came over the family and offer to bring a meal for the family.
On the other hand, a person displaying compassion might hear of an illness that came over the family and call to find out what she needs, how she’s doing, and what she’s feeling. Then, after fully listening and understanding the situation, she is moved to do something that will help alleviate the stress and negative emotions she is feeling.
Compassion requires us first to understand what another person is going through. Then, based on that understanding, it requires us to move into action to help relieve it. Compassion involves a deeper level of kindness.
Being aware of another person’s suffering requires that we first have conversations that unveil what another person is going through without judgment, ridicule, or shame. This is a requirement if we want to show compassion. Many times when we are in a situation with someone suffering, we don’t know how to create the space for them to talk because we get uncomfortable or nervous about their suffering, so it is easier just to show kindness than to display compassion.
Some of the common ways that we react to suffering that makes us uncomfortable are:
- We justify
- We try to fix their suffering
- We blame others
- We try to make them see things from a different perspective
- We make jokes to lessen the severity of our uncomfort
- We dodge the subject completely, stay at a safe distance, and don’t get involved
Before we can ever hold space for other people to express their stories and feelings, we have first to be able to understand those same feelings within ourselves. Suppose we have spent our lives disconnected from our own emotions. In that case, we don’t have the resources or language available to understand complex emotions in another person, which prevents us from showing compassion. By definition, compassion requires that we draw from our own emotions to understand another person’s experiences.
Too often, we judge rather than taking the time to understand someone. One of the most significant ways we do this is by disconnecting ourselves from others. Rather than looking at someone through a lens of compassion and understanding, we say things like “I would never do that!” or “How could she…?”. But what these kinds of statements have in common is judgment. And any type of judgment, no matter how innocent, lacks connection and assumes a moral hierarchy where we are “better-than.” This is problematic because we learn to love others by connecting with our shared experiences, never by casting judgment. And yet judgment is the first line of defense when we are afraid to get close to someone.
This is an important lesson because it is easy to forget that every person we meet has a story like ours. Every person has struggled, has lost someone or something they have loved dearly, and has experienced pain that felt unbearable. We need to pull from our shared stories and emotions to connect with others so we can view people with compassion and steer clear of judgment.
Why being compassionate to ourselves precedes showing compassion to others
Here’s the thing, showing compassion for another person is exceptionally difficult when we haven’t even come to terms with our pain, hurt, and feelings. When we are disconnected from ourselves and our emotions, we can’t show compassion to those with whom we cross paths. Being disconnected from our own feelings prevents us from tapping into shared emotions that connect us to one another.
This is why people who are mean are those who need the most compassion. They are hurt or wounded and so disconnected from their pain that they project it on everyone around them. You can read more about this topic here.
We need to show ourselves kindness & compassion first
So the caveat to compassion is that before we can be compassionate to others, we must first show ourselves compassion, and practice it daily. This is a practice of self-love, and if you’d like to know more about why it’s imperative, read this blog post or this one on the importance of self-love as a parent.
This means that we need to
- Stop being so judgemental of yourself.
- Find fulfillment in our own lives, separate from others
- Forgive ourselves for the mistakes we’ve made in the past.
- Practice gratitude
- Focus on positive change in our own lives.
- Learn to sit with uncomfortable feelings and work through them rather than around them.
- Take responsibility for why things bother us and be aware of what we lack.
- Stop projecting our issues on other people.
- Self-reflect instead of making everything about everyone else.
- Stop victimizing ourselves by hating others
- Learn what feelings are and label them
Our relationships have a direct correlation with the relationship we have with ourselves.
It is inevitable that people grow as individuals while trying to strengthen their relationships. Your relationship has the power to heal your wounds too. And this journey doesn’t just stop at the relationship with your husband; it filters into every single relationship you have. Good relationships are a foundational part of living a fulfilled life, yet many people don’t take the time to learn how to be successful in them.
Too many people go through life wounded and detached from their emotions without realizing the toxic behaviors that have become commonplace in their lives.
Once we recognize our feelings, we can gain back our self-confidence and cultivate self-love, making it easier to show compassion to others.
Being a compassionate person starts with being kind and compassionate to ourselves first. Once we are masters of kindness and compassion within ourselves, it is easier to be that for others.
Questions to ponder:
- In what area of my life can I incorporate more kindness and compassion for myself?
- What is a feeling I knowingly avoid because it seems too much to bear?
- Are there areas in my life where I could replace judgment with more kindness and compassion if I just got to know a person better?