Over the past 25 years I’ve had many opportunities to engage in discussions about politics, religion and various world views and belief systems. 25 years ago, when the Internet was in its infancy and few had access to it, such conversations took place in discussion forums hosted by dial-in BBS’s (Bulletin Board systems). Back then you couldn’t just post a meme or comment on any topic and expect many to see it. Instead, your comment had to be posted in the forum dedicated to a specific topic, and forum moderators would actually police your comments to make sure they were on topic and didn’t contain any personal attacks against anyone posting comments. While things would certainly get heated at times, only arguments for or against a position were allowed.
While Facebook and Twitter aren’t moderated like those old discussion forums (anyone can post pretty much anything on any topic they want and personal attacks usually aren’t closely policed), participating in these discussion over the years has taught me many things about myself and others. One of those things is the ability to understand the difference between being passionate and being compassionate.
Being passionate and compassionate are not the same thing. Yet many of us like to think that being passionate about a particular issue is the same as or the result of our being compassionate. By compassionate, I mean being sympathetic (feeling pity for another), empathetic (truly understanding another’s feelings), kindhearted (being kind and benevolent).
The following are 5 ways to discern whether someone is truly compassionate toward others, as opposed to being merely passionate about an issue.
1. Compassionate folks are willing to engage in respectful discussion even when someone disagrees with them. Passionate people are content to hold up protest signs or post memes, and are only willing to engage in what I call “drive-by shooting commentary”. Attempts to engage them in discussion are often met with resistance and excuses.
2. Compassionate people tend to listen to understand. Passionate people tend to only listen for their next opportunity to give their opinion and be heard.
3. Compassionate people don’t wage personal attacks against those who disagree with their particular position. This is not because they are so wonderful, but simply because they choose to treat others in the same way they want to be treated. Those who are only passionate are quick to resort to name calling, insults and shaming tactics in order to silence all opposition.
4. Compassionate people have a level of confidence and sense of inner security that allows them to care enough to share their views with others out of a genuine desire to see others succeed in every area of their lives. Those who are only passionate are happy to see others fail, suffer, and even be punished for their views.
5. Compassionate folks are careful not to intentionally or unintentionally spread lies and slander other people and groups. Passionate folks don’t bother checking story sources and verifying accuracy. The only thing that matters is that the post fits their agenda or point of view.