Definitional Issues

Some of the most noble human actions are those that express compassionate love. A person acting with compassionate love perceives the suffering, needs, or potential of another, and chooses to act in ways that can better the condition of the other, placing the other's needs in higher priority. There are other moments when one sets aside selfish needs for those of others, when one expresses to others, by words or actions, that they are of value. This occurs in both professional and personal relationships. To contribute to a better understanding of the concept, some definitional points are helpful. Important features of compassionate love include:

(2) some degree of cognitive understanding of the situation;

(3) some understanding of self;

(4) fundamentally valuing the other;

(5) openness and receptivity; and

(6) a response of the heart (heart is here defined as

"core," where emotions and cognition integrate).

The particular nature of individual personalities, social setting, cultural setting, genetic predisposition, and other factors limit the freedom of individuals. This makes up the substrate, the basic starting situation, in which individuals begin to act with compassionate love. This starting point is different for each person, and situations in which action takes place differ as well.

The full expression of compassionate love towards those who are ill relies on appropriate motive. Although helpful behaviors are good and useful, and can contribute to the well-being of another, motives focused more on the self than on the other can decrease the positive effect on the person being served, as well as on the moral growth of the individual giving the love. There are many attitudes that can diminish motives, such that they are less likely to result in compassionate love being fully expressed. These include a variety of possible needs or wants for the self: guilt, fear, needs for love and success, fears of failure, desire to claim the upper hand, reputation. Motives are usually mixed, but when self-centered needs predominate, compassionate love cannot be fully expressed.

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