Wednesday, January 23, 2013

What Words We Use And How They Are Defined

When I hear the word "pity', it's like nails on the chalkboard. In my head, if you pity me, you think less of me and what I can do. That without your help I'd wither away and die...that it's pointless to even make an effort. 

Early this morning I was looking for an inspirational quote that used the word "pity" in a way showed my thoughts above, but I couldn't find anything. I searched and searched for it on the interwebs, but every quote I came upon used pity in a positive context. I was so confused, so I looked up "pity" in the dictionary and here was the definition:



The feeling of sorrow and compassion caused by the suffering and misfortunes of others.
Feel sorrow for the misfortunes of.
noun.  compassion - mercy - sympathy - ruth - remorse
verb.  commiserate - sympathize


I read the definition over and over again thinking it was wrong. "Compassion" is NOT a synonym of "Pity. When I hear the word compassion, I envision the love and generosity of mankind. That people see someone working so hard to follow their dreams in spite of all their struggles and are so moved that they want to help that person reach their full potential in whatever way they can. They help because they believe in someone's potential.

 In an effort to soothe my soul, I looked up the word "compassion":



Sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others: "the victims should be treated with compassion".
pity - mercy - sympathy - commiseration - ruth - clemency


My mind was blown. 

How can two words that mean the same thing by written definition, yet illicit such different emotional interpretations in my heart? It's been two hours and I still can't wrap my mind around it.

My only thoughts are that words are powerful and, like everything in life, they are open to individual interpretation. They have the ability to empower or destroy what someone has worked so hard for. They have the strength to fill our hearts with love or agony that can rattle even the most strong-willed soul. And yes, when those words are dark you can live through them, but—just like physical trauma—those words can leave emotional scars. I know they have in me...I just didn't know how deep those scars were until recently.

When I speak at events, I know how tempting it is to latch onto a phrase because it's simple, powerful and memorable. I know it's important to make a mark on a person by showing the darkness that can be a part of our lives. That's all part of being real, but I don't want the true essence of a person, place or thing to get lost in a well meant and impassioned effort to compel others to help us. 

I don't want anyone to feel sorry for me or my sister. I just want people to know our story and the story of thousands like us who live life with passion and overcome so much...even in loss or death. A belief that we are more than what we're labeled with...two little letters that can go to hell.

These aren't just words in a blog, lyrics in a video, phrases in a graphic or a message in a speech. We represent the memory of who someone was or is, what something is and what we see for the future. It's not a game, a campaign or a trendy catch phrase. It's real life and it's important to respect that.

I know almost everything in life is open to individual interpretation, and thank God we all have free will to make those interpretations. All I'm asking is that when you do interpret something...take everything you can into consideration. 

And above all: Have compassion...and not pity. In my mind there is a difference.

Peaceful Things,



  1. to me, the biggest difference between pity and compassion is who is being empowered. often, when compassion is spoken of, the person in suffering is being empowered by the sympathy or empathy of another. subsequent works are done in the interest of easing the suffering of that person.

    pity, on the other hand, if often used to empower the speaker. as if they are comparing their situation to yours and, through pity, feeling better about their own situation. any works done out of pity are done to give the doer a reason to pat themselves on the back, to check off their good deed for the day.

    at least that's my 3 cents.

    1. I agree, 100%. And that's why I hope to see more compassion in my life than pity.

      Thanks for the comment!

  2. Hello, Friend. This post made me think of musicality or the sound of each word. The hard sounds in pity, combined with it's short two syllables turn it into a harsher word when it hits the ear. Compassion, on the other hand with it's three syllables and it's mmmm and shhhh are more lulling. Remember how we began speaking in appropriate sounds and then made them into words. Just a thought I had while considering your very interesting post.

  3. a·dore
    1. Love and respect (someone) deeply

    I adore you, Josh! Thanks for this post and thanks for being you!!


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