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Pity vs. Compassion: What's the Difference?

Edited by Harlon Moss || By Janet White || Published on December 18, 2023
Pity is feeling sorrow for the misfortunes of others often with a sense of detachment, while compassion involves empathizing with and wanting to alleviate someone's suffering.

Key Differences

Pity is an emotional response to the suffering of others, often characterized by feelings of sadness or sorrow, but it maintains a certain distance. Compassion, in contrast, involves deeply understanding and sharing the feelings of another, often coupled with a desire to help.
Pity can sometimes imply a sense of superiority or condescension, as it does not necessarily involve an empathetic connection. Compassion, however, is rooted in equality and involves a deep, empathetic understanding of another's situation.
In pity, the focus is often on the emotion felt by the observer rather than the actual needs of the suffering person. Compassion, on the other hand, motivates a person to take action to alleviate someone else's distress.
Pity can be passive, simply an emotional response without a corresponding action. Compassion is usually active, driving a person to make a positive difference in the lives of those who are suffering.
Pity can sometimes maintain or reinforce the suffering person's sense of helplessness, while compassion empowers both the giver and receiver, fostering a sense of shared humanity and strength.

Comparison Chart


Emotional response
Empathetic connection


Often passive
Involves active help


Can be condescending
Based on equality


On the observer's feelings
On alleviating others' suffering


Can reinforce helplessness
Empowers and helps

Pity and Compassion Definitions


Pity can imply a gentle, sometimes patronizing, sympathy.
His voice was full of pity as he spoke of the disaster victims.


Compassion involves the desire to alleviate or reduce the suffering of another.
She showed compassion by donating to the charity for children in need.


Pity is the feeling of sorrow for the misfortunes of others.
She felt a deep sense of pity for the abandoned puppies.


Compassion is characterized by an emotional resonance with someone else's pain.
The nurse’s compassion was evident in her care for the patient.


Pity sometimes involves feelings of discomfort at the distress of another.
She couldn’t help but feel pity when she saw the homeless man in the cold.


Compassion is a deep awareness of and sympathy for another's suffering.
His compassion for the earthquake victims led him to volunteer at the aid camp.


Pity often conveys a sense of distance or detachment from the person's suffering.
There was a note of pity in her words, but no real understanding.


Compassion entails a profound and genuine concern for the welfare of others.
Their compassion for the stray animals motivated them to build a shelter.


Pity can be an expression of tenderness towards someone's misfortune.
He showed pity for the injured bird by gently caring for it.


Compassion is often accompanied by an active effort to help.
Moved by compassion, the community gathered supplies for the flood victims.


Sympathy and sorrow aroused by the misfortune or suffering of another.


Deep awareness of the suffering of another accompanied by the wish to relieve it.


A matter of regret
It's a pity she can't attend the reception.


Deep awareness of the suffering of another, coupled with the wish to relieve it.


(obsolete) To pity.


Literally, suffering with another; a sensation of sorrow excited by the distress or misfortunes of another; pity; commiseration.
Womanly ingenuity set to work by womanly compassion.


To pity.


A deep awareness of and sympathy for another's suffering


The humane quality of understanding the suffering of others and wanting to do something about it


What is pity?

Pity is feeling sorrow or sympathy for someone else's misfortune or suffering.

How does pity differ from empathy?

Pity is feeling sorry for someone, while empathy involves understanding and sharing their feelings.

Is compassion always about action?

Compassion often leads to action, but it primarily involves empathetic understanding.

Can pity be demeaning?

Yes, pity can sometimes be seen as demeaning as it may imply a sense of superiority.

What is compassion?

Compassion is understanding someone's suffering with a desire to help alleviate it.

How is compassion shown in everyday life?

Compassion is shown through acts of kindness, understanding, and efforts to alleviate others’ suffering.

How do children learn pity and compassion?

Children learn pity and compassion through social interactions, modeling by adults, and cultural norms.

Does compassion require personal experience of suffering?

No, compassion doesn't require personal experience, but it involves empathetic understanding.

Is pity a negative emotion?

Pity is not necessarily negative, but it can be perceived negatively if it implies condescension.

Can pity lead to patronizing behavior?

Yes, pity can sometimes lead to patronizing behavior if it is not accompanied by respect.

How does culture influence expressions of pity and compassion?

Cultural norms and values significantly influence how and when pity and compassion are expressed.

Can pity be harmful?

Pity can be harmful if it reinforces power imbalances or the recipient's sense of helplessness.

Does pity involve an equal relationship?

Pity often does not involve an equal relationship and can create a sense of distance.

Is compassion a sign of weakness?

No, compassion is often considered a sign of emotional strength and maturity.

Can animals show pity or compassion?

Animals can show behaviors that resemble pity or compassion, especially in social species.

Is it possible to feel too much pity or compassion?

Excessive pity or compassion, without boundaries, can lead to emotional burnout or over-involvement.

Is pity beneficial in therapeutic settings?

In therapeutic settings, empathy is generally more beneficial than pity.

What role does compassion play in conflict resolution?

Compassion plays a crucial role in conflict resolution by fostering understanding and empathy.

Are there any health benefits to practicing compassion?

Practicing compassion can have mental health benefits like reduced stress and increased happiness.

Can compassion be learned?

Yes, compassion can be cultivated through practices like mindfulness and empathetic engagement.
About Author
Written by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.
Edited by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.

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