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Compassion, COMPASSion and ComPASSION

September 13, 2010

Compassion, COMPASSion and ComPASSION

I had an insightful conversation with a friend who explained to me why compassion was an important value for him and essential in his journey of living a meaningful life. He pointed out that the first part of the word “compassion” is compass. So I took a closer look at the word and realized that there are actually two words embedded in it. The other is passion. Which lead to an epiphany:

Compassion is at the heart of setting a meaningful personal direction and pursuing it energetically.

I checked the definition of “compassion” at and found what I consider a rather narrow  definition:

A feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering.

Other sources defined it as:

  1. The humane quality of understanding the suffering of others and wanting to do something about it.
  2. Deep awareness of the suffering of another, coupled with the wish to relieve it.
  3. A disposition to be kind and forgiving.

On I found a broader discussion of the word, including:

It is an emotion bursting with contradictions – of crying and laughing, hurting and healing, receiving and giving.

Compassion . . . is a quality that brings people together. It is in effect “divine respect.”

In my mind, all of these seem to be missing a broader and more compelling meaning – one that reflects the way the word “compassion” seems to be used today, which also may better reflect its origins. The word has two parts:

Com – meaning together or in association with; and

Passion – meaning a powerful feeling or emotion such as love, enthusiasm, or a desire for something, including to intensely embrace, aid, solve, improve, drive or advance.

I noticed that when I broke the word “compassion” down into its component parts, it took on a greater and more robust meaning. It was much more than benevolence and sympathy, words that can be used to define it. Compassion can also include positive, optimistic feelings. It can describe an excitement and fervor for realizing possibilities. The “passion” part implies direction, as well, especially when we consider that passion can be focused on achieving a worthy goal. And the “com” prefix implies a sense of oneness with others, a moving together in common cause to pursue objectives.

With all this in mind, I now have a much greater appreciation and deeper understanding of compassion.

The word “compass” may not be a part of its etymology; however, the idea of establishing direction fits well with the broader essence of the concept – one of having strong feelings and a sense of togetherness, coupled with direction and action.

Where is your compassion taking you?

Steve Weitzenkorn

Steve Weitzenkorn, Ph.D., is a learning innovator, organizational advisor, experienced facilitator, and lead author of Find-Fulfill-Flourish: Discover Your Purpose with LifePath GPS – a book, tool kit, and workshop series focused on guiding people toward more meaningful and fulfilling lives.

Copyright © 2010 F3 Forum, LLC. All rights reserved.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. September 25, 2010 11:44 am

    good thoughts; whether or not in the etymology, compass is important isn’t it? Which direction should our compassion take us? How to we know the direction – even the horizon? A compass is essential. My faith-tradition provides me a compass that points to people in need in a horizon beyond myself, my family, people like me, and even beyond people who agree with me, in fact all the way to include people who see me as enemy. That’s the direction and horizon – it doesn’t mean I’m very good at following it. That’s the journey.

  2. October 4, 2010 1:35 am

    Thank you for this blog. The word certainly means a lot more than many people may realise.

    • October 4, 2010 5:56 am

      Thanks so much for visiting our blog and your comment. I look forward to reading more of your posts.
      My best,

  3. dusterbed permalink
    October 4, 2010 7:14 am

    Thanks for bringing me to your Blog.
    I really like the way you explore the elements of the word compassion. I had never thought about it in this way before! Likewise, it is interesting when you point out that “compass” is indeed part of the word.
    Since learning a little more about Buddhism and the teachings about compassion, I am daily practicing compassion. But I often find it difficult to reverse the “training” I have had since birth. I find that the more compassionate I am – towards everybody – the easier it is for me to embrace compassion. It’s contagious too!

  4. Marjorie Shalita permalink
    April 18, 2013 2:09 am

    Embedded in the word ‘compassion’ is the word ‘compass’, which can be defined as an instrument for drawing circles. A compassionate person is one who has the capacity to empathize with the suffering of another by allowing him/herself to feel what the other is feeling, and acting on the desire to do something to help, to walk a mile in the other’s shoes and to encompass, (ie., include a wide range of person, place or thing; surround, embrace, incorporate, take in, contain, involve or deal with) another human being… allowing ourselves to be the instrument by which others are pointed in the direction of the magnetic north. To be truly compassionate, we must be willing to be open to a greater concentric circle that is all inclusive, not exclusive, by seeing the intrinsic value of the whole of humanity…..there is no separation, there is no us/them mentality, there is no difference between any polarity of up/down, right/left, black/white, light/dark or above/below….everything and everyone is connected to everything and everyone else, and to the Greater Being….We are all ONE, we are each a Divine Exression of Love~~

  5. Yoo Yi Jing permalink
    July 10, 2014 2:45 am

    Hello, I am a student, may I know if I can use your photo for my assignment? I will cite this page 🙂

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