Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Platitudes v. Compassion

I would rather feel compassion, that know the meaning of it
~St. Thomas of Aquinas

Käthe Kollwitz, Mothers

Have you heard the word platitude?

Platitude means "a flat, dull, or trite remark, especially one uttered as if it were fresh or profound"

I am sure, you'll have heard many, many of them in your life-time and I promise you've repeated them as well.

Do you think you haven't? Let me give you some examples of what I mean:

  • "You are young, you'll survive"
  • "You can have more children"
  • "At least you have other children"
  • "You should be grateful for your other children"
  • "He/she is in a better place"
  • "Better now than later"
  • "Everything happens for a reason"
  • "You must have done something terribly wrong"
  • "Be strong for your other children (husband, wife, father, mother, etc)"
  • "I know exactly how you feel, my dog died last week"
  • "God needed another angel"
  • "You are doing it great"

Do you get my point?

In my work as a volunteer within MISS, every once in a while, this subject arises with the force of a tsunami. I have heard hundreds of bereaved parents tell how these "innocent" comments hurt their broken hearts.

We've all have heard these"pieces of advice", but have we ever stopped to think what we are implying when we tell someone that is grieving these "words of comfort"?

Compassion, on the other hand, means "a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering". It implies a total immersion on the human condition, the willingness of setting one's presence in the midst of others' deep sorrow and suffering.

When facing the bereaved, we might fear the silence, their pain, their anguish and the anguish their suffering provokes inside us. We might feel the tears building inside of us when they start crying and sobbing. Our worse fear is that the same thing that has happen to them, happens to us.

At this precise moment, our "educated" selves begin saying all those platitudes we've heard over the years.

We have been raised as "problem solvers" and when someone is suffering, we want to "fix" them, to take away their pain.

Compassion is not something we learn in school. We have to accept that being compassionate is harder than we think it is. We need to go inside ourselves and decide that we are willing to walk, hand in hand, with that person that is suffering. We need to accept that we won't be able to take away their pain, but we can make their grief journey less lonely.

The next time you meet someone who is suffering, please, for once, try to be quiet. Let yourself be present at the moment, allow yourself to feel compassion. It is OK to suffer with and for another person... I am sure you'll receive more from that experience than what you think you are able to give to the one in pain.


  1. Here by way of Kerrie.

    What a beautiful and meaningful post. I heard more than my fill of those little platitudes when I first buried my sister and then, years later, my Dad.

  2. Yes! You nailed it! In my personal opinion, silence and a hug go a long way. Sometimes when people speak to comfort another, they end up being totally inappropiate.