Article: Dimitris Vagenas

Translation: Paraskevi Govari

Dalai Lama had defined compassion as “the wish for another being to be free from suffering” and advised people to turn their attention to compassion, if they want to be happy, both themselves and their friends. Nowadays, compassion holds a central place in our vocabulary, and its acceptation is being constantly studied by scientists who are often led to interesting and unexpected findings.

Even though compassionate people are characterized by acquired abilities, like the ability to recognize the emotions of others without judging or blaming them, the assistance and sensitivity towards the pain of others seem to be a spontaneous reaction that is not only found in the human species. According to experiments conducted in Germany, chimpanzees respond to the calls of other chimpanzees and they help them without expecting a reward and without having been trained to do so, while research of the University of Chicago showed that a similar ability is also found in mice. In addition, babies are sensitized by the crying of other babies, trying at times to help them, even though their parents haven’t yet taught them the rules of “good behaviour”. Therefore, there seems to be a powerful instinct that urges us to help others, while benefitting ourselves: when we care about the difficulties of others, we temporarily forget our own problems and turn our attention to our friends and to our efforts to help them. Moreover, while trying to think of ways to help them, it is very likely that we might come up with solutions and strategies to deal with our own problems as well.

On the other hand, generosity and altruism may deliver different results, hurting not only the others but also ourselves. Some people feel forced to devote themselves to taking care of a relative – for example, in the case that there are no other relatives or friends to help them – which leads them to push aside their own personal needs and to not care about their own happiness. In such cases, it is important that these people find time for the things that make them happy, and realize that their health is just as important as that of the person they take care of. Additionally, some compassionate people tend not to point out the flaws of others, and so they keep finding excuses for their inappropriate behaviour, thinking that if they have a clash with them, they will put their relationship at risk. However, by avoiding talking to others about their weaknesses, they deprive them of the option to recognize their mistake and fix it, since it is very likely that the good bearing of their friend won’t allow them to notice it. In the opposite case, that is, if they deliberately proceed with perverse acts, compassionate people eventually adopt a passive attitude, while constantly trying to justify and fix other people’s mistakes.

It is, therefore, essential to remember how important it is to help others without expecting something in return, but it is just as vital to not put our own needs aside. Unfortunately, sometimes the boundaries between compassion and exploitation are vague, and politeness and altruism may induce to opposite results.


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Seppälä, E. (2013). The Compassionate Mind: Science shows why it’s healthy and why it spreads. Observer. 26 (5), 1-5.