I am not to be pitied. I detest that. I do not appreciate being pitied. I take offense in it. With or without the breast cancer diagnosis.
Recently, someone left this comment in one of my posts —
“I’m sorry for you for being ‘sick.’”
Whoa. Wait. Please don’t be sorry for me.
That was my instinctual reaction. I found it offensive. Lacking sensitivity and tact.
I also don’t see myself as ‘sick.’ ‘Ill’ or ‘unwell’ sound more pleasant. Not as offensive. I prefer using and hearing those terms instead of ‘sick.’
I pay close attention to what I verbalize and what others tell me, even what I read because I believe words — as with thoughts and everything else — carry energies. Everything is energy.
The messages and meaning that words carry and the energies not only of the words but even of the messenger find their way into our consciousness. They can uplift us as well as dampen our spirits.
So, I found the comment offensive not only because I don’t want anyone to ‘be sorry’ or ‘feel sorry for’ (aka pity) me. ‘Sick,’ to me, sounds, well, ‘sick.’
Alright. Perhaps the person didn’t mean to offend me. My perception and interpretation may not be what they meant.
But when one’s intention is pure, wouldn’t their thoughts, message, and actions reflect precisely that — purity, integrity, kindness, and love?
How about saying instead, “I’m so sorry to hear about your situation (or about what happened)”?
To me, that sounds more compassionate — and courteous.
Are you sure about what you wrote in your response, Nadine? Might you be overreacting? Too sensitive perhaps?
Those questions reverberated in my head shortly after I posted my reply. The uncertainty lingered even after a couple of days of posting it.
But I did find the statement offensive. Not the rest of the comment, though, admittedly.
A couple of days ago, something nudged me to check the commenter’s profile.
Voila! I discovered that the host country of their email address is Germany.
Now that could be the explanation. English may not be their native tongue. They may not have an excellent command of the English language.
And that shifted my perspective. I felt a release of my bodily tension. Mea culpa.
I was reminded of how we’re all different, coming from a diverse background. Different cultures. Races. Experiences. Filters. Perspectives.
I was reminded of how it isn’t that much different from my country of origin’s — Philippines’ — culture and language.
There is no direct and accurate translation in the Filipino language for “I’m so sorry to hear about your situation (or about what happened).”
There are no words that convey compassion.
There are no words in the Filipino language that mean and express compassion. There are for sympathy, commiseration, and pity.
But that’s different.
Very different. Miles apart different.
In fact, the statement “I’m so sorry to hear about your situation (or about what happened)” may even lead the average Filipino to ask, “Why should I apologize for their situation or for what happened to them? It isn’t my fault.”
To the average Filipino, the words, “I’m sorry” means asking for an apology for one’s mistake or wrongdoing. That’s all.
Hence, it is quite uncommon to receive the compassionate response, “I’m so sorry to hear about your situation (or about what happened).” As I said, it cannot be accurately translated to the Filipino language.
How does the Filipino respond upon learning of someone’s challenging situation?
Usually, by saying, “Ay, kawawa naman….” That directly translates to, “Oh, how pitiful…”
There are times, “Nakakalungkot naman…” which translates to “That’s saddening…”
Again, the intention to be compassionate may be there. Maybe. But the words — because of language limitation — do not accurately reflect that.
Or perhaps there really isn’t any intention to express compassion. Maybe the intention is indeed to commiserate. Sympathize. To have pity. Feel pity for the other.
That’s why, it is quite common to hear remarks that are specifically directed at the person such as, “Ay, kawawa ka naman (Oh, how pitiful of you)” or “Ay kawawa naman siya (Oh, how pitiful of him/her).”
Perhaps, because the Filipino confuses compassion with empathy and sympathy, that leaves much to be desired in the Filipino culture — or the world in general — for the authentic expression of compassion.
Heck, even those with English as their native language have difficulty differentiating between empathy, sympathy, and compassion!
Even those who have an excellent command of the English language fail not only to demonstrate but verbally express genuine compassion.
What more for those with English as a second language, eh?
Victim consciousness, “poor me” is prevalent in the Filipino psyche. Probably, that’s why it’s so much easier for them to commiserate than to be compassionate.
And perhaps that’s why they equate the two to be the same — to commiserate is to be compassionate.
When someone experiences misfortune or is facing a challenging situation, they are in much need of nothing but care, concern, and compassion.
A warm embrace.
A shoulder to cry on.
Someone to hold out the bucket where they can spew and vent what’s bottled up inside.
Someone to hand a hanky to wipe the tears.
The last thing that they need is to be pitied.
Pitying dampens — rather than uplifts — one’s spirit.
Pitying takes away hope instead of restores one’s faith.
Pitying doesn’t mend; it makes the dispirited individual feel even more broken rather than whole.
Pitying prevents the distraught individual to find the gift and be in peace amidst the chaos.
Pitying is disempowering, discouraging, invalidating, and dishonoring.
No one deserves to be dishonored. No one has the right to dishonor another. We mustn’t allow anyone to dishonor us.
Whatever our background or native language is, may we be authentically compassionate towards those who are going through a challenging situation. As a human species, may we fully embody such a vital trait and become masters of compassion.
And may we be equally compassionate to those who are unable to convey compassion adequately or unable to express it in a manner that suits our preference.
If your native tongue is not English, how do you articulate compassion in your language? Does your language differentiate sympathy, empathy, and compassion? Or are they, like in the Filipino language, lumped together to mean the same thing, sending unclear messages to the recipient?