“Experts in the field of emotions insist that compassion is not at all the same thing as pity. Pity exists alongside a sense of superiority: ‘I’m sorry you are hurting, but thank goodness I’m not in your situation.’ In contrast, compassion arises from a deep experience of shared humanity and solidarity. Researchers in the fields of psychology and neuroscience have found that compassion has three elements: an intellectual understanding that another’s suffering is real, an emotional sense of pain in response to the suffering, and a commitment to take action and do something to alleviate the suffering. For compassion to exist, all three elements must be present. This means that compassion can be a powerful force when it comes to social justice.
“However, compassion is also not the same thing as kindness. Although kindness does imply action, it is more generic, less focused. If I am a kind person, I am friendly and considerate to everyone I encounter. But kindness alone won’t move me to look past the immediate boundaries of my personal world. This means that many white people can choose to never confront the reality of systemic racism because, for whatever reason, it is invisible to them. These people would never kick a Mexican child or steal medicine from a Black woman — but at the same time, they refuse to look at the actual, if unseen suffering, of immigrant children separated from their parents and Black women denied adequate medical care.
“Kindness won’t dismantle our nation’s racist structures. Kindness won’t change the fact that the United States currently imprisons a larger percentage of its Black population than South Africa did during apartheid. It won’t protect the thousands of missing and murdered indigenous women. It won’t solve the problem of ‘food deserts’ in inner cities, where the lack of adequate transportation and grocery stores forces people to rely on fast food. And it won’t do anything to change the reality that the average Latina woman earns just barely more than one-half what the average white man earns.”