There but for the grace of God go I

Or if you are of the atheist persuasion, “There but for a twist of fate go I.” For my purposes right now, either way works fine.

Just a quick meditation on compassion versus pity. When someone is giving or receiving pity, there’s a clear sense of inequality. The person who is doing the pitying is superior– they don’t have the problem, or in the same circumstances they wouldn’t be such a pathetic loser. No one wants to be pitied, or if it seems they do, they’re more likely to get scorn or contempt. On the other hand, most people feel fine about giving or receiving compassion. Compassion is between equals– either “I’ve been there and I know how you feel,” or “It could just as easily be me,” or “my turn will come.”

There are many minor examples– who hasn’t had a cold or the flu? If someone has it, you know how they feel, because you’ve had it too. That’s likely to be compassion. Or on a more serious note, let’s say a broken leg. I broke my leg once, and the whole time I had my cast, people would come up to me and tell me their broken leg stories. Pity, if any, came from people who’d never broken so much as a toe. Compassion came from fellow sufferers– even though there’s a certain “can you top this?” vibe that can happen– and there were lots of people whose broken leg stories were more gruesome than mine.

This leads to thoughts on the terms victim as opposed to survivor. Some people just think this is a bunch of politically correct bunk. Others think it’s a form of empowering people. Which do you believe? I think that to call someone a victim is to have pity, and to call them a survivor is to have compassion. If I call myself a victim, that’s a form of self-pity, but if pity goes from a superior to an inferior being, how does that work? I’ll have to think about that. I’m open to opinions and feedback.


About jamesmatter

Marriage and Family Therapist (MFT) in private practice in San Francisco. I work with adults, adolescents, and couples, with focus on substance use and abuse and co-occurring disorders (having both a mental illness and an addiction).
This entry was posted in belongingness, existentialism, handling the unexpected, physical health, Recovery, spirituality and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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