‘Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them humanity cannot survive.’ (Dalai Lama)
‘True compassion means not only feeling another’s pain, but also being moved to help relieve it.’ (Daniel Goleman)
HOM: Listening with understanding and empathy
When I clicked on my newsfeed recently, I was surprised to find an article from an organisation called ‘Crustacean Compassion’. It seemed fortuitous since I was about to write on nurturing ‘compassion’. In all honesty, thoughts of compassion towards crustaceans had been far from my mind, yet here was an article making the case for the humane treatment of crabs, lobsters and other decapod crustaceans in the UK. Crustaceans are sentient creatures (capable of experiencing pain) and this group campaigns for a legal recognition of that fact, so that they are included in UK animal welfare legislation.
This made me think about what and who we include in our spheres of compassion. And does it include crustaceans?
Compassion literally means “to suffer together.” Among emotion researchers, it is defined as the feeling that arises when you are confronted with another’s suffering and feel motivated to relieve that suffering. It is not the same as empathy or altruism, though the concepts are related. Whilst empathy refers more generally to our ability to take the perspective of and feel the emotions of another person, compassion is when those feelings and thoughts include the desire to help.
We often feel most natural compassion towards those ‘like us’ or those who suffer in ways with which we relate most closely. Often the causes we support and for which we campaign, are rooted in the experience of our own suffering or of our loved ones. That we are moved by feelings of compassion to act is all to the good, yet what of those who for whatever reason, do not ‘tug at our emotional heart strings’? Our emotional response is an important motivator towards compassionate and moral action but perhaps that might not always distribute justice fairly or even towards those most in need.
Soon we will be entering the Christian season of Advent, when we may focus in particular, on those who need our compassionate response. Jesus showed compassion towards the diseased, the poor and those who were despised, those who might not evoke compassionate feelings at all. Yet it seems these are the very ones he makes a point of seeking out and helping. The net is cast wide, and no one is outside his sphere of his compassion.
Compassion lies at the heart of all the major world faiths and as the Dalai Lama said, ‘Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries.’ So let us cast our net of compassion more widely and who knows, it may also end up including compassionate concern for crustaceans.