Compassion implies ‘being with’ someone else in their experience of pain or misfortune, of standing alongside them in suffering. It seems to me it is a quality of being rather than of doing.
I question whether charitable giving can really be classed as compassion. I don’t wish to detract from the response to give alms in the context of natural or human disaster. But I am not sure that this is a situation where we truly ‘suffer with’ those affected. More we respond to the tragedy in a general way.
I rather like the following:
Compassion therefore is a quality that brings people together. It is in effect “divine respect”. There is no greater emotion than to feel and absorb the pain of someone else to help ease their burden . . . compassion is helping other humans in the present moment . . . (UCADIA article on compassion)
However, there is something missing for me here. Surely the truest tests of compassion come when faced with people or situations that run contrary to one’s own values or when faced with behaviours that may be difficult of even dangerous? Again, the generalised response to victims of disaster or war is very different from the personal ability to stand beside an addict in their pain, with the hope but no expectation that they will find a better way forward. That presence without expectation, accepting someone as they are, is a true gift.
Interestingly, the UCADIA article places compassion very firmly in the present moment, alongside respect, honesty, consistency, enthusiasm and cheerfulness, describing these as the six key present moment emotions. The point is well-made that most negative emotions are rooted in the past or future.