Compassion Fueled by Empathy

There are a number of reactions that people have when a child in our community is in emotional pain due to a crisis and/or conflict in their life. The reactions may range from apathy to sympathy, empathy to compassion.

Apathy is the more negative reaction because it’s a way of not caring about what happens to the child. It implies a matter of indifference towards the child’s circumstance. Those who respond with sympathy show some care, but may simply think that it’s too bad that the child is suffering so very much. A sympathetic response implies that they are distant or pity the child’s situation. On the other hand, there are others who may feel empathy for the child because they are able to understand or share feelings with the child. However, one can be empathetic but not know how to help because a situation appears overwhelming.

At Henrico CASA, we are grateful that our volunteers feel a sense of empathy AND compassion that allows them to effectively act – and in our case, advocate – on behalf of a child.

Empathy for the plight of children that are experiencing abuse and neglect is very positive and powerful. The empathetic person is able to imagine being in the place of the troubled child, feeling what they feel. Empathy precedes compassion, yet empathy without compassion may leave an individual drained of energy or at a loss of how to help.

When you react with compassion, you are relating to someone’s situation and also taking steps to help. Compassion drives CASA volunteers to be more impactful than individuals who experience empathy alone. None of this implies that there is anything wrong with empathy. Simply put, a CASA volunteer needs a combination of both empathy and compassion to be most helpful to the children they serve.

In the article From Empathy to Compassion, Fleet Maull explains, “Empathy doesn’t necessarily lead to compassion—that is, the desire to alleviate the suffering of others. In order to better know how to cultivate greater compassion, it helps to define compassion more precisely as a caring response to another’s distress or suffering.

This can take two forms:

  1. Being willing “to suffer with” another; to bear witness and not turn away in the face of their distress; to accompany and provide solace to them through one’s caring presence.
  2. Acting to alleviate or mitigate another person’s distress or suffering.”

CASA volunteers willingly embrace their role with compassion. CASA volunteers are willing to step-up and act, by advocating for the best interest of an abused or neglected child. We are so thankful for our wonderfully compassionate volunteers!

For more information on volunteering as an advocate, including what you can expect in terms of commitment and training, click here.