Can There Ever Be Too Much Compassion?


I am blogging today as part of the 1000 Voices Speak for Compassion initiative (thank you to Rebecca Bradley for drawing my attention to it). 

My life has been coloured by others. My body, my heart, my mind have sickened with compassion.

I make no claims to be exceptional in this: my skin is simply more permeable than most. My moods are dampened by other people’s suffering, my joy tempered by the thought that so many around the world do not have even half of the things I take for granted. I am restless and anxious when friends are ill or going through a rough patch. I hope they know that I am always there to help and support them, even if it causes myself discomfort or trouble. But who isn’t willing to put themselves out for friends? Nothing exciting to report there.

I worry about the poor and oppressed, the voiceless, powerless, helpless, nameless, faceless. I fear for all who are different of face, limb or thought, the outsiders, the rebels – with or without a cause, willful or yielding. I am guilty of not being there for everyone who ever needed me, not helping whenever I could, turning away with disgust when I could have tried to understand or forgive more.

So I always try to see the other side of the story, the other point of view. I can be accused of sitting on fences, of lack of courage, of refusing to commit, of having no certainties. I will always listen to one more argument, even if I do not agree with them. As Byron says:

If I am fool, it is, at least, a doubting one; and I envy no one the certainty of his self-approved wisdom.

I don’t believe in this contemporary quest for personal happiness. I wish I did. I wish I could pursue happiness without considering it selfish. I wish I could have intransigent views and be deaf to the multitude of voices. I wish I could have less empathy and more self-absorption. It sometimes feels to me that people who are compassionate are taken advantage of.

But it’s too late for me: my skin remains paper-thin, rippling with every current. I can understand and feel for even the most repulsive or conflicted characters in a book. I cry at films, weddings, funerals, graduations or friends’ confessions. ‘Put yourself in the other person’s shoes’ is not just a motto, it’s a way of life.

Is it too late for my children, I wonder? Am I doing the right thing teaching them to have more patience, more understanding, more empathy for other people? Would they be more serene if they were more blind to the needs of others, would they sleep more soundly when their universe extends only a shallow distance beyond their own contours?

Those are the darkest days, when I question the wisdom of compassion. Most days, however, I believe that the world is suffering from a lack of, rather than a surfeit of compassion.


For me personally, compassion is not a choice but a compulsion, but I have often been told to ‘care less’, to learn to ‘put myself first’. ‘Compassion is the radicalism of our time’ says the Dalai Lama – and how frightening it can be!



14 thoughts on “Can There Ever Be Too Much Compassion?”

  1. Powerful post, Marina Sofia! I do understand what you mean about being so very susceptible to compassion. It does make life challenging at times. Yet, I am convinced that the alternative – having no compassion for others – not life-affirming, and definitely not good for us as humans.

  2. i think if we have learned to love ourselves, we’re able to love others, have compassion with others…
    what really hit me was that part:

    So I always try to see the other side of the story, the other point of view. I can be accused of sitting on fences, of lack of courage, of refusing to commit, of having no certainties. I will always listen to one more argument, even if I do not agree with them.
    …. cause i often feel like that as well… i’m not quick with blaming someone or making up my mind – i really try to view things from different angles and take different things into account… sometimes too much maybe… sometimes i would like to shake that off…i can’t though

    1. Tolerance is often misconstrued as weakness, isn’t it? I’m not sure to what extent it’s something positive, or if it’s just running away from conflict…

  3. Thought provoking and personal post, Marina Sofia.
    There’s a great show on France Inter (Saturday mornings at 11:00) that explores that theme of compassion through different angles, blending science, philosophy and literature. It is fascinating.
    It explains and demonstrates how we are “programed” to be compassionate.
    It’s called Sur les épaules de Darwin and I believe it’s been made into a book.

  4. A very thought-provoking post. I think your children will learn from you by your example. Compassion is always a good thing, as long as you have as much compassion for those close to you as for those far away.

  5. Lovely post! I’m not very familiar with Byron so thank you! for that quote.
    You sound to me to be more the exception than the rule. It so seems sometimes in this present age of instant self gratification (and yes, self absorption) the idea of considering another’s “side to the story” is a foreign concept!
    If I may answer your rhetorical question? Yes. You are doing the right thing. Your children are very fortunate to have your example:)

  6. A very moving post, Marina. For what it’s worth, I think you’re doing the right thing by encouraging your children to have patience, compassion and empathy for others. I do understand the challenges and how worrying it can be at times…hopefully the benefits outweigh any downsides.

  7. Oh, what a post! You have spoken of compassion such as you have read my heart…I am troubled by the woes that I see that I almost have to hide away from them. Which is not part of any helpful solution. I just want to say that you echoed so much of how I feel.

    1. Glad you understand (although sorry you feel the same). It’s like peeling too many skins off an onion, isn’t it? But that’s not helpful to myself or to others.

  8. So very lovely, Marina. I’m cut from the same cloth that is so easily rent by others’ suffering. At times, compassion paralyzes me. I try to pick the issues where my voice is the strongest, but even then, I am overwhelmed by my own helplessness. But we keep caring and making our efforts, don’t we?

    In spirit,


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