I had to rack my brain to get the answer to this question. I had to research so much and the last time I did this much research was probably in my college days 😉 I always assumed Kindness and compassion were interchangeable. But when I was explaining to people, of course, I would see that there is a difference. That is why I decided to share with you what I have learnt when I decided to look in the dictionary what the meaning of both words were. I hope with this article, I will be able to shed some light on the same and clarify your confusions if you’ve had any. So join me in this journey and let’s get reading 😊
What is Kindness anyway?
Merriam-webster.com describes the word kind as “having or showing a gentle nature and a desire to help others: wanting and liking to do good things and to bring happiness to others.”
As we note, being kind means to have sympathy. It means to be willing to be good or benevolent. It is a behaviour trait. It is a choice; an active one at that, to continuously do good. By continuously doing good I mean, doing good for others or doing good for yourself; it depends on the situation. The reason being “love” and “integrity” are the driving forces behind this human value of Kindness.
Take away the aspect of love from kindness and you’ve successfully taken away the element of empathy required to drive the “benevolence”. You have also taken away the action element of “continuously choosing” to be kind.
Take away integrity and voila you’ve now taken away the need to continuously do good/ kind deeds whether or not anyone’s watching. Without integrity, there isn’t a need to be benevolent when the cameras are turned off, is there? Integrity is what weaves in kindness to a human value/ trait.
Kindness can’t exist without love and integrity. It’s a triune value.
Let me clarify with an example:
Right from a young age, my mother taught me to give to the needy; especially during my birthday. I remember when she used to take out basic amenities like food and clothing and keep aside for our maids. Right after the party was over, it used to be time for giving to the folks that always make it a point to paint smiles on our faces for the rest of the year.
I didn’t need to feel compassion for them. I just needed to show kindness. Let me explain that. With kindness, I can choose to be kind just because I feel affection to the people that help me lead an easy life for the rest of the days of the year. “Choose” is key here. As I mentioned earlier, love is a driving force for kindness. Love as you already know is an action word. It is a choice that you make, it’s not just a feeling. Similarly, kindness is a choice that we make.
What is compassion then?
Merriam-webster.com describes compassion as a “sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it.”
So you can see how it implies a deep need for sympathy for the sorrow of the other person. A need to relieve that person’s pain. Compassion puts you first hand into someone’s shoes and therefore drives you to change the situation to help the person.
Take an example of the time when you see a beggar or a homeless person. You are so troubled by the sight of someone not having enough clothing/ shelter or food to sustain, that you immediately want to do anything in your power to help them. Which is why if you have a piece of bread, you share with them. Else, you buy them food…
Compassion is what drives society into becoming better. Since compassion is hinged on feeling sympathy/ pity along with having the strong urge to ease the suffering, compassion is what people to become doctors/ scientists/ engineers to alleviate the sufferings of the world.
How then are compassion and kindness different?
For being compassionate, you need to have sympathy for the other person/ animal’s plight. Compassion is driven by pity and ‘mercy’.
That is why judges reduce the sentence of prisoners, because of compassion. Which is why it’s called a mercy petition (or) compassionate grounds.
Kindness however doesn’t NEED you to be sympathetic. You certainly could if you want to, but it’s not needed because kindness is driven by love and integrity. You don’t need to be sympathetic to someone’s problems for you to want to be kind to them. You can be kind to people regardless of their sorrow. You can be kind without the need to pity someone. Kindness is a choice. Kindness is a character trait. It exists with or without suffering. You don’t need a reason to be kind but you always need a reason to be compassionate.