The Dalai Lama once said that “compassion is a necessity, not a luxury … without it, humanity cannot survive.” Compassion is the emotion that we feel in response to the suffering of others that motivates a desire to help. Philosophers, humanists, and theologians have long argued that this emotion plays a foundational role in human morality (though some, like Immanuel Kant and Ayn Rand, have disagreed). The emerging science of compassion has revealed through dozens of experimental studies that compassion leads to pro-social behavior, cooperation, and forgiveness.
And yet there are many contexts in which we avoid feeling compassion for self-interested reasons. We might pass a homeless person on the street, ignore his plea for help and keep walking. Or we might throw a UNICEF envelope in the trash because we feel our contributions would just be a drop in the bucket. From the perspective of material self-interest, there appears to be no cost to such actions: Money, time, and other resources have been saved by stifling compassion. But if compassion plays a central role in human morality, then eliminating that emotion might have unintended moral consequences. Perhaps callousness has a cost of its own.
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