Being bilingual in fluency, there are still times when I find it easier to express my thoughts in one language or the other because some words in my native tongue, Filipino, cannot be expressed in English, and there are English words that are too vaguely translated into Filipino.
An argument on compassion versus pity cannot be truly conducted in Filipino, in my opinion. It will take too many words to create the distinction. “Awa”, said as spelled and with short vowel sounds, can be translated into English as pity, compassion, or mercy. And while the definitions are the same, the life applications present very fine lines in distinction.
Taking “mercy” out of the equation because it deserves its own discussion, I asked a friend if it’s fair to draw the parallel that “pity” is to “give a man fish” while “compassion” is to “teach a man to fish”. He agreed. To an extent, it’s the easiest way to describe how I feel about the matter.
I’ve too often heard the line “Kawawa naman sya kasi _____”. [“We should feel sorry for him because _____.”] And I don’t even know when it started but I realised, upon hearing it so many times, that I really detest the idea of this kind of kindness. The latter virtue is hard enough for me to practice, I’ll be honest, but to practice it out of pity makes the idea absolutely horrendous. In hindsight, I believe I’ve also borne witness to seeing how counterproductive it is in teaching kindness and compassion. All the “kawawa” seems to do is to make more people feel “what about me?” and in turn, they act up worse than before, perhaps in the hope of milking the “kawawa”.
I honestly feel odd talking about this simply because I’d never seen myself as a very compassionate person to begin with. I’m honest, I’ll say that. I can be fairly straightforward depending on the company involved.
Do I believe in “kawawa”? Perhaps, in a different way, I do. I don’t have the words to express it yet, but perhaps, at some point, I will figure it out. For now, I will choose to say that I prefer not to get involved in feeling this sort of pity that encourages a sense of entitlement. I’ve seen it all go wrong enough times.