Meaning of Compassion (Etymology)

These reflections on the nature of compassion form today 13 Oct 2014 while sitting with my great friend Dorothy as she gives her last breaths. I know her concerns for children to come and her desire that suffering be alleviated. May this exploration bring comfort to all.


Summary reminder about this guide.

Our world view is simultaneously shaped by and reflected in our use of symbols. The human ego can easily generate very subtle and sophisticated rationales for any use of a symbol. This guide employs deep psychoanalysis founded in the profound wisdom of the principles of physics. It enables us to use that wisdom  to transcend the ingenious deceits and trickery of the ego so that our use of symbols sustains yin yang

True hope resides in symbol use that embraces change/stewardship.
Delusive hope resides in symbol use that denies change/stewardship.


Compassion is one of our most potent sustaining symbols and yet it is rarely used in modern English:
Society – It is rare to hear it used in our daily discourse.
Media – It’s use is relegated to the occasional mention in obscure sections of our media filed as Religion or Spiritual Matters. The notion that compassion might be referred to in our daily business bulletins is radical and hilarious to most people. This is because deep in us we sense the truth: compassion is the antithesis of the psychopathic edicts and activities of our modern deities called “The Market” and “Business Sentiment”.
Education – A search of  New Zealand, Britain, Australia and other Anglo-American national education frameworks for mention of “compassion” is a barren exercise. There are only one or two very indirect links to compassion in each case while the search throws up many links to  “compass”. This is revealing in that compasses play a key role in navigation and this skill has long been seen as vital for commandeering the resources of the planet so they enhance the economy of the British Empire.  The truth of our lives is always out in some way despite the ingenious deceits of the ego. Smile.

NZ Curriculum  no compassion Compassion does not exist in the fundamental framework while science is deemed to be simply an amoral way of thinking and knowledge to be just a commodity. There is no mention of compassion in the overarching statement “VISION: Young people will be confident,connected, actively life-long learners” nor in any of the elaborations of these qualities.  Here is what a Compassionate Curriculum framework might look like.

Government – The response to a search of for compassion is typical of Anglo-American societies: “Sorry, nothing on matches your search.”

Government compassion
The page header asks “We’ve rebuilt – what do you think?”  and the link at the bottom  asks, ” Something wrong with this page?”  In answer to the question “What were you doing?” I type “Searching for compassion” and in reply to the subsequent question “What went wrong?” I  type ” I found no compassion“.
My Government thanks me for this feedback. However already I know that while we have  ministries and services for all manner of things we have no  Ministry of Compassion.
It is clear the physics of compassion no longer prevails in the English language and we are vulnerable to delusive hope.  The question arises: how might we  be sustained by true hope in compassion?  Perhaps an answer resides in the ancient wisdom of the “compassion” symbol.

 Online Etymology of compassion

Our uses of the compassion, pathospity and piety symbols seem to have evolved via interconnected ways. The symbols are often defined in terms of each other.  See blue text below.

In brief, the passion  symbol arises from the ancient Proto-Indo European pe(i) “to hurt” while com means “together”.
We see in the cognates of pe(i) a range of responses to our common suffering. Suffering is variously  associated  with woe, devil, enemy, blame, endure (harden the heart) and revile.  Already there is a fundamental rejection of our common state of being.
Then in the late 14th Century this denial of our common state increases as the passion symbol becomes  associated with “strong emotion, desire“.

The dissociation from suffering increases as passion becomes associated with “sexual love” from 1580 on.

passion google
Top results from Google search October 2014 of images of “passion”


Passion Pyramid

The modern dissociation with suffering becomes complete in the 1630s  so that now  passion is  merely associated with  strong liking, enthusiasm, predilection”.

This is another example of the widespread transformation of the English language that occurs with the advent with the excesses of the so called “Industrial Revolution” and the expansion of the English Empire.  This transformation involves profound denial of change/stewardship.
The denial and self-deceit is manifest in words being stripped of their wisdom and even having their meaning completely inverted.
See, for instance, the discussion of  our changing uses of the scienceeconomy and resource symbols for a clearer exposition of this English phenomenon.

Observe how  pity and piety are also differentiated from each other and stripped of their associations with suffering during this period of reformation of England. Thus it is now more common for them to be associated with denigration and abuse, as in “I pity you” (You are pathetic) and “Don’t be so pious” ( You are pompous).  Pathetic by 1937 has come to mean “so miserable as to be ridiculous”.

Thank you This cartoon illustrates the modern confusion of pity

Respectful uses of pity, piety and compassion are now most commonly restricted to describing the lives of a small, exclusive group  of “saints” or “holy people”. We no longer see them as expressing our common condition. In many ways this reveals a loss of wisdom and self-respect.

From Online Etymology

compassion (n.) Look up compassion at Dictionary.commid-14c., from Old French compassion “sympathy, pity” (12c.), from Late Latin compassionem (nominative compassio) “sympathy,” noun of state from past participle stem of compati “to feel pity,” from com- “together” (see com-) + pati “to suffer” (see passion).

passion (n.) Look up passion at Dictionary.comlate 12c., “sufferings of Christ on the Cross,” from Old French passion “Christ’s passion, physical suffering” (10c.), from Late Latin passionem (nominative passio) “suffering, enduring,” from past participle stem of Latin pati “to suffer, endure,” possibly from PIE root *pe(i)- “to hurt” (cognates: Sanskrit pijati “reviles, scorns,” Greek pema “suffering, misery, woe,” Old English feond “enemy, devil,” Gothic faian “to blame”).

Sense extended to sufferings of martyrs, and suffering generally, by early 13c.; meaning “strong emotion, desire” is attested from late 14c., from Late Latin use of passio to render Greek pathos. Replaced Old English þolung (used in glosses to render Latin passio), literally “suffering,” from þolian (v.) “to endure.”

Sense of “sexual love” first attested 1580s; that of “strong liking, enthusiasm, predilection” is from 1630s.

pity (n.) Look up pity at Dictionary.comearly 13c., from Old French pite, pitet “pity, mercy, compassion, care, tenderness; pitiful state, wretched condition” (11c., Modern French pitié), from Latin pietatem (nominative pietas) “piety, loyalty, duty” (see piety). Replaced Old English mildheortness, literally “mild-heartness,” itself a loan-translation of Latin misericordia. English pity and piety were not fully distinguished until 17c. Transferred sense of “grounds or cause for pity” is from late 14c.

piety (n.) Look up piety at
early 14c. (late 12c. as a surname), “mercy, tenderness, pity,” from Old French piete “piety, faith; pity, compassion” (12c.), from Latin pietatem (nominative pietas) “dutiful conduct, sense of duty; religiousness, piety; loyalty, patriotism; faithfulness to natural ties,” in Late Latin “gentleness, kindness, pity;” from pius “kind” (see pious). Meaning “piousness” attested in English from c.1600. Also see pity (n.).
pathos (n.) Look up pathos at
“quality that arouses pity or sorrow,” 1660s, from Greek pathos “suffering, feeling, emotion, calamity,” literally “what befalls one,” related to paskhein “to suffer,” and penthos “grief, sorrow;” from PIE root *kwent(h)- “to suffer, endure” (cognates: Old Irish cessaim “I suffer,” Lithuanian kenčiu “to suffer,” pakanta “patience”).

These reflections on the etymology of compassion form a prelude to the discussion about the Physics of Compassion.