From the Christian Science Sentinel, July 18, 1903, by William P. McKenzie
Pity is both sought for and resented. Those who are unfortunate endeavor to awaken sympathetic grief in the hearts of men by recounting their distresses; yet when they have awakened pity, they find themselves made inferior by the recognition of their weakness and misfortune on the part of those who pity, and this often arouses indignation. The real desire of those who seek pity is to gain special and undeserved favor, and in this how often are they disappointed, getting commiseration instead. “How miserable I am!” is the plaint; and if the reply be, from one standing aloof, “Indeed you are very miserable,” what uplift is there?
It has been said that pity as a mere emotion produces almost nothing in the way of benevolence. The sorrows of the unfortunate heroine in a play may be so presented that pity overflows in the hearts of the listeners, yet these same persons who looked at imaginary sorrow with streaming eyes, usually experience a reaction into a state of callousness when genuine sorrow and need call for action.
Sympathy is better than pity, for it indicates fellow-feeling and implies equality, or some bond of union with the sufferer. There is no looking down from a superior condition of good fortune upon the condition of misfortune, but rather the warm sense of kinship which urges on to helpfulness. When pity is accompanied by the inclination to help, it has risen to sympathy; yet even at that stage it may be the suffering and distress of others upon which the thought is concentrated, and their misfortunes, and sorrows may continue to be viewed as part of reality, even when effort to relieve them is contemplated.
Mercy commonly implies the expression of clemency or good will to the undeserving. When the just deserts of wrong doing are contemplated in a particular case, pity may be aroused, and the offender may then be treated with less severity than the law demands. Such treatment is usually considered merciful; but the word is more exactly applied when a man is able to be kind to his enemy whom he finds in his power. One definition of the word is “forbearance to injure others when it is in one’s power to do it,” as when a robber might listen to the plea of his victim and refrain from cruelty to him; but the word appropriately has a more gracious and kindly sense as well. If one were to remit a penalty, that would be pardon. Dismissing from the mind displeasure or resentment towards one who has wronged us, is properly forgiveness. But one who has the will to bless the offender, and actually seeks his welfare because of benevolence in his own heart, such an one shows mercy.
Compassion is higher than all these. A man may be pitiful and merciful, and yet sorrow and pain may be to him such realities that he can do almost nothing to relieve them. Sympathy with present suffering may be so sentimental that the wrong-doer is comforted and pitied so soon as the effects of his error come upon him to reform him. “Compassion combines with the tenderness of pity, the dignity of sympathy, and the active quality of mercy.”
When Jesus was moved with compassion, there was a yearning sense of tenderness excited by the need of the people; but his actions showed that he did not rest in any sense of mere pity. He turned from the seen to the unseen,—from the pitiful need of man to God’s infinite provision of good. Compassion, then, is more than an inclination or an impulse to relieve suffering and distress; it implies a fellow-feeling not so much with man the sufferer, as with man the child of God, and it raises him to a recognition of his true estate.
Compassion does not seek so much to remit the penalty as to change the criminal tendency; it does not merely forgive the enemy but transforms him into a friend; it not only has the willingness to bless, but through its vision of reality knows how to bring what is good into a demonstration,—to prove the good to be the actual fact.
Christian Scientists turn their attention continually Godward, because of their desire to have done on earth, as in heaven, the will of God; and because they do not attend to the recitals of woe which the self-pitying offer, nor listen to garrulous conversations concerning the conditions of the sick, nor enjoy morbid discussions in regard to the details of disease, they are sometimes accounted unsympathetic. But what is most needed for the blessing of man, more emphasis given to his fear of disease, or more knowledge of the overbrooding, divine Goodwill who healeth diseases? Therefore he is a benefactor to the race who uplifts his thought to heavenly places, and thither helps, by the sweet compulsion of love, the weary and those whom sickness and sorrow oppress. This he cannot do without learning compassion. Any one acquainted adequately with the Christian Science movement knows what teaching has been given, what example shown, by its Founder, Mary Baker Eddy, so that men may become compassionate. People fail to understand her dealings until they perceive that her purpose is always to heal and to save, and that she excludes none from the circle of her compassionate interest.
It is through compassion that healing, the work of God, is realized. “How ill you look,” says Pity. “I am sorry for you,” says Sympathy. “I would I could help you,” says Mercy. But Compassion is able to say, “Rise and walk;” and it thus gives proof that love is reality and not sentiment. Before the glowing sense of love in the compassionate heart, how quickly fear departs; how quickly the doubting mind is reassured! and why? He who taught us “by his own glory and virtue” showed us that to be moved with compassion was but the preliminary to realization of divine Love as ever-present and all-satisfying.