Recently I’ve been thinking about the word compassion. The prefix com comes from the Latin word meaning “with”, so in a way it means “with passion”. Maybe that’s why, even though I think of sympathy as a synonym for compassion, I think compassion has a more active connotation. You feel sympathy for someone, but you have compassion. I know it’s a very subtle difference, and I’m not knocking sympathy, but I think of sympathy as an involuntary reaction, while feeling compassion for someone is a way of reaching out. In fact the word compassion in Latin means “to suffer together with”.
The philosopher Simone Weil once said that the only honest question one person can ask another is, “What are you suffering through?” That’s a pretty bleak, cynical outlook, but maybe there’s a bright spot in it. I happen to believe that pain shared is pain halved, and being able to share another person’s pain begins with compassion.