I wrote this piece more than ten years ago when someone was bullied on-line by several people after making an innocent mistake:
To me the word “compassion” implies an empathetic understanding of the suffering of another and thus is a step beyond pity, which nevertheless is a sympathetic appreciation of another’s plight.
It is perhaps not too difficult to understand the anguish of those with whom we are not acquainted. If we see news footage of a starving child or hear about victims of the Asian tsunami of course we feel emotion. However, unless there is any direct involvement (where for instance someone we know was killed or bereaved) we might perhaps send a charitable donation but we are otherwise unable to help in a practical sense and do not become greatly engaged emotionally.
Sometimes, though, it seems to us that someone we know has been seriously wronged, or we have a deep sense of injustice or sympathy for that person’s anguish. If that person who is our friend or colleague has been deeply hurt or is vulnerable, we are anxious to rush to that person’s side, to help fight the battle. That is a very noble and honourable thing to do and it will be helpful to the person wronged to know that he or she has the support of others through a difficult time.
Nevertheless, often in human relationships there are two sides to every story. That does not mean that the person wronged is in any way to blame, but perhaps the behaviour of the supposed perpetrator has to be seen in the context of his or her own situation and probably that person’s emotional state. That person should not be demonised and it may be that that person requires some understanding too, indeed some compassion; an empathetic understanding as to why the person acted in the way that he or she did. Perhaps the wrongful act was an accident or a simple indiscretion under stress (if it was a criminal act then that is for another discussion another time), and in some circumstances it might have been a cry for help.
These situations occur in online relationships too, and of course it is very likely that they will affect people’s daily lives. Compassion for the “wrongdoer” does not require us to agree with someone’s actions but if we make an effort to understand the circumstances it may assuage our anger.
My Oxford Pocket Dictionary defines compassion as “pity inclining one to spare or help”. Online or offline, it is always important not to rush to judgement, but to help and support the parties involved and show compassion to all those who need it.