Compassion Versus Sympathy

As I have reviewed studied the character trait of compassion, it has taken on an entirely different connotation to me. I know I regret people having to go through trials and heartaches in their lives but I have discovered that seeing without doing is simply sympathy.

The English noun compassion comes from Latin. Its prefix com comes directly from an Archaic version of the Latin preposition meaning “with”. The passion segment is derived from passus or “past participle” and is related in origin, form and meaning to the English noun patient “one who suffers”. Therefore, the word origin literally means “to suffer together with”.

We all feel pain of some kind but everyone experiences life from a slightly different perspective. Life is hard. You can simply turn on the news or talk to neighbors to discover the pain people endure day in and day out. I know pain and suffering is part of life and unfortunately we all have to bear those burdens.

Do I truly recognize or am aware of others plight? Do I look for it or am I really willing to see it and do something about it?

More than just feeling sorry for someone, compassion takes it to the level of taking responsibility to do something about it. We must walk with someone in their pain to show true compassion. Not for personal gain but putting aside our reputation and how it effects us.

As I reflect on compassion I have seen in my life, I am reminded of a team of boys. This group of young men taught me the true meaning of compassion by putting aside their desires, seeing the need and doing something about it.

Juan Asturias was a 10 year old who moved with his mom and brother, Diego, to Houston from Mexico. They sold everything they had to get there because Houston has one of the best cancer treatment centers in the nation. Yes, Juan had cancer and the forecast was not too bright. Six months was the best estimate given.

I was a young Sports Director and encountered Juan’s mom when she signed her boys up to play sports. She explained the situation and requested assistance. Knowing that Juan did not excel in sports and going through chemotherapy, she was worried he would not be contributing to the team’s success in the athletic sense. However, she explained, the doctors wanted him involved in something to stay active and look forward to. Kids can sometimes be cruel in their lack of understanding and immaturity. I shared Ms. Asturias’ concern and was unsure the outcome.

Juan was placed on the Marlins and began the season trying to fit in like all the other players. Because he was not at the highest level of chemo and just had started treatment, he still had mobility and all his hair. After a few weeks of practices and games, the affects of the procedures began to surface. Juan began losing his hair and his limited endurance to run and ability to throw were deteriorating quickly. Instead of just feeling sorry for him, the boys on the team began rallying around him, helping him and including him in all aspects of the squad. It was quite a sight to see someone make a good play and the first thing they wanted to do is go to Juan on the sidelines and give him a “high five”.

After a few months, Juan continued to show up to practice and games but only with assistance from the car to the dugout. At the lowest point, he would insist on being there but had to sit and watch from the car because he was simply too weak to move. After the game, the team would have their huddle and snack at Juan’s car window.

After the treatments, Juan and the Marlins were very encouraged that he began to regain some strength and had committed to join the team for soccer season. The group of boys had the time of their lives as they worked over the next seven seasons going from sport to sport remaining a team. Layups in basketball season turned into goal keeping in soccer, which evolved into playing first base in baseball, which turned into a mid-fielder in soccer. Juan was experiencing what every kid should have – the privilege to enjoy, season after season of belonging and contributing to a team.

After the seventh season of the Marlins and almost two years longer than the doctors gave Juan to live, he sharply declined. Within two weeks he was completely bed ridden and passed away the following week. During the funeral, looking across the chapel, all that could be seen were Marlin hats on young men with their parents. As Ms. Asturias addressed the congregation, she stressed a point the doctors had made to her. Juan had only been given six months to live but because of a team of compassionate individuals, he was able to experience two additional years of life. She went on to explain that he could not have made it on his own. Because of their support, he was able to fight. “Because you were there, you gave him the strength to do something he could not have done on his own”.

I am challenged by the example of these young men not just to see the pain but do something about it. I am challenged to put aside personal gain for the sake of doing what it takes to benefit someone else. I am challenged to walk with others in the pain and not just feel sorry for them. I am challenged to truly be compassionate.


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