Defining Compassion vs. Compassion in Action


I am inspired by all the bloggers who posted in support of compassion. It was fascinating to see the different ideas, anecdotes, and topics people wrote about. ThoughtBubble

My #1000speak post, about an experience I had a year ago, reminded me how many times I’ve brought my children to homeless shelters, safehouses, schools, and libraries to donate clothing, toiletries, and books. What, if anything, had they learned from this?

I decided to ask them what compassion meant.

Neither one of them could answer me. They shifted in their seats and looked at the wall and floor with their I-don’t-know-the-answer faces.

Gah! Really? “Think about it.”

My 10-yr-old said, “Uh…love?”

My 8-yr-old said, “Friendship. I think it’s how you feel about a friend.”


I asked them for an example of something compassionate.

My 10-yr-old said, “Helping someone with a math problem if they can’t do it.”

My 8-yr-old answered, “Giving someone a stuffed animal if they’re sick so they feel better.”

They started sharing ideas: donating to homeless shelters, hugging someone if they’re sad, bringing an animal to the vet if it’s hurt…

Both my kids struggled to define the word compassion, but they know how to be compassionate people.



You don’t need to be able to define compassion to be compassionate.



My Sunday thoughts in 200 words or less.


20 thoughts on “Defining Compassion vs. Compassion in Action

  1. I’m a total definition nerd and typically defer to Webster, but when I ask my kids how they would describe a word I’m always struck by the way they define words in terms of actions. They don’t define WHAT love is but instead define HOW to love. They are practical little creates – and great teachers.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This makes me think that while many might have the proper definition in their head, they might not have the prompting in their heart. Your sons might have struggled to define the word, but the action clearly lives in their hearts! Beautiful boys!

    Liked by 3 people

  3. This is gorgeous, Sarah. I agree with Charli. The boys don’t need to define it with words, they act it with their hearts. They have a wonderful role model in you. Thank you teaching us all how easy it can be when it becomes a part of who you are. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Pingback: How to teach compassion – and why | Norah Colvin

  5. I think their ability to cite examples while being unable to provide a definition is actually an endorsement of your teaching your children genuine compassion. They don’t need a definition in order to act compassionately. Wouldn’t it be awful if the reverse were the case, if they could rattle off a definition but never demonstrated any instances of compassionate behaviour themselves.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It is interesting. I was thrown off for a moment when they couldn’t tell me what it meant but, yes, it would be awful if the reverse were true. I am so grateful they are compassionate children. “Genuine” compassion. 🙂 That’s beautiful. Thank you, Anne.


  6. I find that children tend not to be able to articulate things well, but they sure can show what it means through actions. Maybe adults would do well to do the same every once in a while.

    PS. I’m here from the Modern Philosopher’s blog pitching party. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.