Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Compassion: Friend or Foe?

Just finished watching an interesting documentary about Abraham Lincoln and certain aspects of his character sounded remarkably familiar. I'm not for a moment comparing myself to the great man - I am not that conceited - but I realise now we have a lot more in common than I at first imagined.

But even more interesting than realising we share a lot of political common ground, Abe being a Republican (albeit moderate), was to find out he suffered serious bouts of depression throughout his life.

Courtesy of

Lincoln is not alone among great figures from the past when it comes to depression. It is a known fact that countless altruists throughout history suffered from the condition; Florence Nightingale being an example that springs to mind.

If one is caring and is genuinely interested in helping others and would like to rid the world of  all suffering, then depression seems to be the most likely outcome. Closely followed by disappointment.

How sweet are these? Love 'em

It reminds me of the frustrated atheist who once said "If I could end all suffering, I would - that's the difference between your god and me".

Depression is a common clinical condition that can be treated with psychotherapy and, more frequently, drug therapy. And there, maybe, lies the problem.

If, as I suspect, depression is more likely to strike sensitive people, those with ample empathy and who may even be lacking in self-esteem, then I can't see how chemical medication can be of help.

I would have thought drugs merely disguise and suppress the symptoms.  A radical change of thinking and mindset seems a lot more likely to bring about a solution to the problem.

Maybe depression is a sad consequence of having compassion. Maybe it is synonymous with feeling empathy. If so, is it an illness or a gift?

I know little about the condition, as you can tell from my simplistic approach, but I am interested.

OK!  I am a little worried about it, now that I've gone and changed my life-style completely.

Lincoln immersed himself  in work, as a helpful distraction to keep depression at bay. I have - until two weeks ago - been doing the same with constant and endless socialising.

Something I can no longer do while here in London.

Just as well my wandering days ain't over.



  1. Interesting post Joe. I think drugs do suppress the depression - i know for a fact mine is still there, waiting for the day I have to stop the meds. I did know about AL being a sufferer, but only found out recently.

    Hope you are settling back into rainy England OK?

    1. Hi Dicky, I'm OK thanks, just can't wait to start working, that'll cheer me up :)

  2. I have a son-in-law with Bi-polar and his battles with it affect our whole family. It's hard on us so I cant imagine what he's going through...

    1. I have a friend with the same affliction and I feel very sorry for her :(

  3. This is really intersting Joe, I hadn't thought of this before - depression being a consequence of having compassion and feeling empathy. But it does make some sense.