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Caro
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PostSubject: Pity   Fri 21 Aug 2015, 05:08

As ever I don't know where is the best place to put a topic.



For a while now I have been thinking about pity and why it is such a maligned emotion. I have never heard anyone say or suggest that being pitied is something to be wished for, and yet many of us (more or less all of us?) feel pity regularly when we hear of someone suffering from illness, or having to cope with poverty or sick children or being in dreadful accidents or events.


But frequently you hear people say things like, “I can’t bear being pitied,” or “As long as they don’t pity me, I don’t care what they think.” And yet people feeling pity would consider themselves being empathetic and putting themselves in others’ shoes. So why should this be so. I can only think that people feel there is an attitude of superiority if you feel pity for them. Do you ever feel pity for someone who you feel is in better circumstances than you? Perhaps you could feel sorry that they don’t seem to have much compassion for others.


But although I said above that more or less all of us feel pity for others. However I am reading Simon Winchester’s book about Joseph Needham and his large work on Chinese history and science. At one stage he talks of Robert Payne, writer and teacher, meeting a Chinese professor in 1943. Payne “was discussing the American bombing raids on Tokyo the year before, somewhat approvingly, and the Chinese sage was nodding his head in a way that Payne assumed signified complete agreement. It was only after the man began to speak that he realized ‘for the thousandth time since I came to China that a man who nods his head may actually be expressing the most profound disagreement.’ The Chinese professor said he was in Chongqing during the bombardment and had no wish that the Japanese should share the same fate. ‘Nothing is so terrible, so remorseless, so revolting to the soul as a bombardment. The soul cannot suffer in peace after such indignities...The Chinese knew all about poison gases fifteen centuries ago; we invented an airplane, and quite rightly executed the inventor; we are the only nation that has thought continually of peace. I have no malice against the Japanese, who killed my parents and my brothers. I have pity, but it is not Christian pity, I’m afraid – it is the pity that burns.’”


I am not sure what that meant and it wasn’t analysed. Needham talking about it was apparently more interested in the gas and the science than the philosophy of pity. Is Christian pity what most of us feel when we feel sorry for our neighbour dying of cancer or the one on the other side with a very sick child. Or even when we roll our eyes at politicians putting their feet in it? And how would you define a pity that burns? And has all this changed over the centuries? Can people feel more pity if they are not having to worry about health or wealth?
(The comment about the Chinese executing the man who invented the aeroplane was interesting too. It made me smile – when I should have been feeling sorry for the man who lost his life, perhaps.)
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Priscilla
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PostSubject: Re: Pity   Sat 22 Aug 2015, 13:42

Can't get this thread out of my head, Caro; an interesting one. My wooly skills with semantics being further challenged. On the ladder of emotions, pity seems to be a high rung a sort of helpless sympathy. Sympathy being on a lower level with sharing implied and grieving for, on a low rung looking upwards for support.
In pity there can be hint of superior disdain, mm? - and that burning pity thus with controlled wrath. I wish the others would have a go at this one. Perhaps we do not always have enough words to convey shades of meaning - well, I don't, but others here do so I hope they will have a stab at it.
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Temperance
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PostSubject: Re: Pity   Sat 22 Aug 2015, 14:11

Yes, yet again defining the terms is the problem. Pity? Sympathy? Empathy? Compassion?

Pity is a dangerous emotion to express these days - rescuer/victim/persecutor - Karpman Drama Triangle and all that?

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karpman_drama_triangle


The Rescuer: The rescuer's line is "Let me help you." A classic enabler, the Rescuer feels guilty if he/she doesn't go to the rescue. Yet his/her rescuing has negative effects: It keeps the Victim dependent and gives the Victim permission to fail. The rewards derived from this rescue role are that the focus is taken off of the rescuer. When he/she focuses their energy on someone else, it enables them to ignore their own anxiety and issues. This rescue role is also very pivotal, because their actual primary interest is really an avoidance of their own problems disguised as concern for the victim’s needs
.

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LadyinRetirement
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PostSubject: Re: Pity   Sat 22 Aug 2015, 14:27

These days if I am struggling with heavy shopping and somebody younger and beefier offers to help me carry it I usually let 'em.  Are they feeling sorry for a 'pore ole lady' - maybe.  If I'm standing on the bus and somebody offers me a seat it depends - if I've only got one or two stops to go I usually say thanks but will be getting off soon blah-de-blah-de-blah.  I do try to show appreciation because I don't want to dissuade them from offering a kindness to somebody else.

When I was still working full-time in London I can remember getting off the train and walking to the station entrance/exit and there was a poster of a young child in a wheelchair with the wording "He'd love to be able to walk away from this poster too".  I remember feeling a bit cross - obviously it was terribly unfair for the youngster in the poster to be suffering from the ailment afflicting him (I forget now) but I didn't like the charity behind the poster trying to make me feel guilty.  But my next feeling was GUILT not because of the child's illness but because I had felt annoyed at the poster.  I would have preferred the charity to have used a more positive approach - that a donation could help in such and such a way for example.
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Vizzer
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PostSubject: Re: Pity   Sat 22 Aug 2015, 22:40

@Caro wrote:
And how would you define a pity that burns?

An intriguing question. Defining pity in the English language is tricky because in the nearest mainland European language, French (from which the word presumably comes), it is a faux ami. In French 'pitie' means mercy while 'merci' means thanks as does 'grace'. A veritable linguistic minefield as it were.

If pity is linked to mercy, then the 'pity that burns' would seem to be akin to the concept of 'cruel mercy'. This can manifest itself in several ways. One simple example would be well known for anyone familiar with workplace politics. This is when an individual opts not to denounce another person (within earshot of that second person) for some transgression or other (when they could quite easily have done so) and thus rendering that second party in their debt. This is particularly effective in cases where that second party is a disliked superior of the 'merciful' first party. A classic case of moral blackmail is then established.

A more serious example would be from societies and/or times administering the death penalty. A particular individual might be spared death in order to 'live with their conscience' etc. And the flip side of this would be someone taking their own life in order to avoid trial - i.e. 'cheating justice' or someone having been sentenced to death then killing themselves before judicial execution - i.e. 'cheating the gallows'.

A famous example of 'cruel mercy' from the 20th century would, perhaps, be that of Anthony Blunt. A member of the Cambridge Five group of Britons spying for the Soviet Union from the 1930s to the 1960s. His treachery was uncovered by the British secret service and he admitted to this in 1964. In return for immunity from prosecution Blunt divulged the names of other spies. Being 'immune from prosecution', however, did not mean immunity from public disclosure and 15 years later he was subjected to full exposure via the media in 1979.

For anyone who has seen the television interview which he gave that year, then only the hardest of hearts couldn't feel, not 'burning pity', but real pity for the 72-year-old man expressing his bitter regret.
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Caro
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PostSubject: Re: Pity   Mon 24 Aug 2015, 10:55

Thank for those comments.  Since writing the opening post and a propos of Temperance's post, I have read a review of Anne Typer's A Spool of Blue Thread (in The Oldie).  The reviewer mentions an early scene where a middle-aged couple are told their son is gay,and "fall into mutual recriminations. 'I'm just saying a person can be too understanding,'Red says... Red's remarks start one of the threads that runs through this multi-layered novel - the dangers of pity and the collateral damage caused by acts of kindness."  Then later it says, "Beware of pity: as Junior's marriage shows, it is not always a good basis for making life-changing decisions."

I have only read one Anne Tyler - it was so unsettling for me that I have never tried her again.  And I'm not sure this one wouldn't have a similar effect.
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Temperance
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PostSubject: Re: Pity   Mon 24 Aug 2015, 12:10

Ah, Caro, here is the quotation from R.C. Dunning which Jean Rhys put at the beginning of her novel Quartet - a classic study of the victim/rescuer/persecutor dynamic:

...Beware
Of good Samaritans - walk to the right
Or hide thee by the roadside out of sight
Or greet them with the smile that villains wear.


A Karpman Drama Triangle version of the parable would be fun to write...perhaps with the innkeeper as the narrator.
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Temperance
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PostSubject: Re: Pity   Mon 24 Aug 2015, 12:50

I like this Tragic Fragment from Burns:


All devil as I am-a damned wretch,
A hardened, stubborn, unrepenting villain,
Still my heart melts at human wretchedness;
And with sincere but unavailing sighs
I view the helpless children of distress:
With tears indignant I behold the oppressor
Rejoicing in the honest man's destruction,
Whose unsubmitting heart was all his crime. -
Ev'n you, ye hapless crew! I pity you;
Ye, whom the seeming good think sin to pity;
Ye poor, despised, abandoned vagabonds,
Whom Vice, as usual, has turn'd o'er to ruin.
Oh! but for friends and interposing Heaven,
I had been driven forth like you forlorn,
The most detested, worthless wretch among you!
O injured God! Thy goodness has endow'd me
With talents passing most of my compeers,
Which I in just proportion have abused-
As far surpassing other common villains
As Thou in natural parts has given me more.
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nordmann
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PostSubject: Re: Pity   Mon 24 Aug 2015, 12:53

I like this one, from Tolkien:

Frodo: What a pity that Bilbo did not stab that vile creature, when he had a chance!'
Gandalf: 'Pity? It was Pity that stayed his hand. Pity, and Mercy: not to strike without need. And he has been well rewarded, Frodo. Be sure that he took so little hurt from the evil, and escaped in the end, because he began his ownership of the Ring so. With Pity.'

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PostSubject: Re: Pity   Sun 06 Sep 2015, 22:37

@Vizzer wrote:
@Caro wrote:
And how would you define a pity that burns?

An intriguing question. Defining pity in the English language is tricky because in the nearest mainland European language, French (from which the word presumably comes), it is a faux ami. In French 'pitie' means mercy while 'merci' means thanks as does 'grace'. A veritable linguistic minefield as it were.

If pity is linked to mercy, then the 'pity that burns' would seem to be akin to the concept of 'cruel mercy'. This can manifest itself in several ways. One simple example would be well known for anyone familiar with workplace politics. This is when an individual opts not to denounce another person (within earshot of that second person) for some transgression or other (when they could quite easily have done so) and thus rendering that second party in their debt. This is particularly effective in cases where that second party is a disliked superior of the 'merciful' first party. A classic case of moral blackmail is then established.

A more serious example would be from societies and/or times administering the death penalty. A particular individual might be spared death in order to 'live with their conscience' etc. And the flip side of this would be someone taking their own life in order to avoid trial - i.e. 'cheating justice' or someone having been sentenced to death then killing themselves before judicial execution - i.e. 'cheating the gallows'.

A famous example of 'cruel mercy' from the 20th century would, perhaps, be that of Anthony Blunt. A member of the Cambridge Five group of Britons spying for the Soviet Union from the 1930s to the 1960s. His treachery was uncovered by the British secret service and he admitted to this in 1964. In return for immunity from prosecution Blunt divulged the names of other spies. Being 'immune from prosecution', however, did not mean immunity from public disclosure and 15 years later he was subjected to full exposure via the media in 1979.

For anyone who has seen the television interview which he gave that year, then only the hardest of hearts couldn't feel, not 'burning pity', but real pity for the 72-year-old man expressing his bitter regret.


Vizzer,

"Defining pity in the English language is tricky because in the nearest mainland European language, French (from which the word presumably comes), it is a faux ami. In French 'pitie' means mercy while 'merci' means thanks as does 'grace'. A veritable linguistic minefield as it were."

I have the impression that "merci" in French has also the meaning of "pitié"...for example "je suis à votre merci" ( I am at your mercy), "j'ai besoin de votre miséricorde, de votre charité, de votre pitié (I need your pity)...
https://fr.wiktionary.org/wiki/merci


However you can be right that there are two nuances, which are not completely the same, although they are many times used for each other...
In Dutch and German there are two different words: medelijden (German: Mitleid), French: pitié, English: pity and barmhartigheid (German: Barmherzigkeit) French: charité, miséricorde, English: mercy, clemency

For the "cruel mercy"...tomorrow further...

Kind regards, Paul.
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PostSubject: Re: Pity   Mon 07 Sep 2015, 21:50

@Caro wrote:
As ever I don't know where is the best place to put a topic.



For a while now I have been thinking about pity and why it is such a maligned emotion.  I have never heard anyone say or suggest that being pitied is something to be wished for, and yet many of us (more or less all of us?) feel pity regularly when we hear of someone suffering from illness, or having to cope with poverty or sick children or being in dreadful accidents or events.


But frequently you hear people say things like, “I can’t bear being pitied,” or “As long as they don’t pity me, I don’t care what they think.”  And yet people feeling pity would consider themselves being empathetic and putting themselves in others’ shoes.  So why should this be so.  I can only think that people feel there is an attitude of superiority if you feel pity for them.  Do you ever feel pity for someone who you feel is in better circumstances than you?  Perhaps you could feel sorry that they don’t seem to have much compassion for others.


But although I said above that more or less all of us feel pity for others.  However I am reading Simon Winchester’s book about Joseph Needham and his large work on Chinese history and science.  At one stage he talks of Robert Payne, writer and teacher, meeting a Chinese professor in 1943.  Payne “was discussing the American bombing raids on Tokyo the year before, somewhat approvingly, and the Chinese sage was nodding his head in a way that Payne assumed signified complete agreement.  It was only after the man began to speak that he realized ‘for the thousandth time since I came to China that a man who nods his head may actually be expressing the most profound disagreement.’   The Chinese professor said he was in Chongqing during the bombardment and had no wish that the Japanese should share the same fate.  ‘Nothing is so terrible, so remorseless, so revolting to the soul as a bombardment. The soul cannot suffer in peace after such indignities...The Chinese knew all about poison gases fifteen centuries ago; we invented an airplane, and quite rightly executed the inventor; we are the only nation that has thought continually of peace.  I have no malice against the Japanese, who killed my parents and my brothers. I have pity, but it is not Christian pity, I’m afraid – it is the pity that burns.’”


I am not sure what that meant and it wasn’t analysed.  Needham talking about it was apparently more interested in the gas and the science than the philosophy of pity.  Is Christian pity what most of us feel when we feel sorry for our neighbour dying of cancer or the one on the other side with a very sick child.  Or even when we roll our eyes at politicians putting their feet in it? And how would you define a pity that burns?  And has all this changed over the centuries?  Can people feel more pity if they are not having to worry about health or wealth?
(The comment about the Chinese executing the man who invented the aeroplane was interesting too. It made me smile – when I should have been feeling sorry for the man who lost his life, perhaps.)  


Caro,

I think, as many emotions, you need two parties, the acting and the receiving...
And I am not sure, but is pity not an emotion caused by comparison with our own being. We have compassion, pity with the other because he ressembles us and we feel pity with that situation of the other because we imagine as that it can occur to us too and as we are from the same "human" species the emotion is even higher. With some animals we can have pity too, because they have some similarities with us. But have you pity with a tree that dies...?


And yes the receiving party can always see your pity as "disdainful pity"
http://english.stackexchange.com/questions/67860/disdainful-pity

I once late in the evening in a café grabbed the playing cards from the ground that a man, obviously not fully in control of the cards in his hands, had lost from the playing table. I just wanted to be polite (as I am always am Wink ), but I saw that, with a bit too much beer, the man was angry. And I understood it immediately Embarassed . If I had pity with him, I hadn't to show that, he still wanted to be seen as in full control of himself and what would the other card players now think of him...
Perhaps this is not the right example, but what I mean the receiving party has still his pride and don't want to be considered as being needing compassion...?

"burning pity"? the acting party says to the receiving party your actions are insane, poor creature I have really compassion with such insanity...?  Or perhaps from the hyper rich...I have compassion with them, as they have nothing anymore to reach to...

But if we want to be fair with the connotation of "pity", it is still in my humble opinion, the emotion as we said first: of the "compassion" with the plight of some other being, mostly as related as possible to our own human species...and all the rest is deforming of that specific emotion...?

Kind regards, Paul.
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PostSubject: Re: Pity   Mon 07 Sep 2015, 22:46

Paul, I sorrow greatly for a dying tree - but that is more empathy and the same as  would feel for a dying animal. Pity - or mys sense of it is colder and I suggest that the burning pity you are trying to fathom is burning cold - as in dry ice. Our leader thinks that many of my posts are incomprehensible so I had better stop there.
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