Compassion is defined as feeling sympathy and/or sorrow for another person who is stricken by misfortune.   Lately I have noticed a lack of compassion in people.  I don’t know when I started to notice it but it seems that it is getting worse.  I’m pretty sure part of it is social networking.  People are starting to lose the ability to read one another’s emotions and react accordingly.

Recently I was having a bad day, it doesn’t happen often but it did this particular day.  A friend called and I was telling her how upset I was about this thing that had happened.  I was really surprised when her reaction was to laugh uproariously and change the subject.  This is not a woman without compassion; she’s a very kind and empathetic person.  I know she didn’t mean to act the way she did I just think that because of the lack of face to face interactions people like her are starting to miss the social cues.  I didn’t want her to laugh, I wanted her to say “Oh my gosh yeah that must really suck for you!”  I wasn’t upset with her then and I’m not now because I don’t think it’s her fault.

I’ve also noticed it online in our favorite social networking site.  When someone expresses some real emotion or when they’re struggling with something it seems that people don’t think it’s real because it’s online.  It could be the loss of a pet, a break up, the betrayal of a family member, the loss of a job, etc. The reactions are for the most part kind and helpful but then there are the “suck it up” comments or the inappropriate humor.  Just because these people choose to share their grief online doesn’t make it any less painful for them.

I think with some people compassion or empathy does not come naturally and they have to work at it.  They use humor or coarseness or so called “tough love” as a defense mechanism rather than feel a real emotion.   I think that the decrease in person to person interaction has only exacerbated this.

I would ask the next time someone texts, posts or tweets that they are struggling with something, try to resist the urge to react with a joke or a ribald comment and instead try to empathize.  How would you feel if the same thing were happening to you? You don’t even need to know what the problem is to have empathy, just consider that in your past you might have felt like that person does and then make a decided effort to treat them the same way you would want to be treated.

Don’t let the coldness of a computer screen or a smart phone take away your ability to comfort someone in need.  Think about how you would react if you were sitting across from them at dinner and they had confided in you.  You certainly wouldn’t laugh in their face or tell them to suck it up and then look around the room to make sure everyone else heard how glib you are.  You would nod sympathetically and express your condolences.   Try to be the way you would be in person when you’re online.

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