Compassion is sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others. The etymology of "compassion" is Latin, meaning "co-suffering."
Compassion brings a desire to help alleviate and prevent the other person's (or animal's) suffering. The difference between sympathy and compassion is that the former responds to suffering with sorrow and concern while the latter responds with warmth and care. Compassion is a precursor to empathy, the "feeling as another".
Compassion and (judicial) punishment
Compassion can get in conflict with punishment because punishment is the cause of suffering on a wrongdoer. A person executing the punishment, a witness to the punishment, and even people who are not witnesses but merely know about the fact of the punishment are prone to feel compassion with the delinquent which makes them want to stop or alleviate the punishment.
The usual method to reduce this "problem" is to employ an authority, which can be a person, institution, and/or legal code, by which, once the offender's guilt is determined, a sentence is spoken, after which there is no more room for personal decisions and the punishment must be carried out as sentenced. Also, labelling the offender e.g. as a "criminal", "sinner", as "evil" etc. helps individuals and society as a whole see the delinquent less as a person deserving of compassion, but more like a beast, monster, poisonous insect, or disease.
Compassion and the punishment of children
Compassion tends to be especially strong with individuals perceived as particularly precious and loveable, such as children.
The deep emotional bonds between parents and their children make compassion play an important role in their punishment. If a parent feels that their loved needs to be punished, they are in an inner conflict. They naturally feel compassion with their charge whenever they suffer, but punishment means co cause suffering. How can a parent resolve that conflict? Any of the above mentioned opposites to compassion are far from what any parent wants to feel. So the solution for the parent can only be strictness in following certain set or agreed-upon rules (the authority principle).
As soon as punishment is in the air, a child will typically instinctively respond in ways suitable to increase the parent's natural compassion, such as crying. If a parent wants to follow through with an announced punishment, they may need to employ strong mental techniques to keep their compassion temporarily in check. Such a technique is to remind themselves of the necessity of punishment in order to raise a child to be a responsible person. Another is to bring vividly to their mind the offense committed, how much harm it has caused, and what would happen if it were allowed to repeat. This helps to feel a certain controlled dose of anger with the offender and a desire to let them feel how grave their offense was. Verbalizing that mental flow, e.g. in a scolding, can also help some parents.
During the punishment, the offender's suffering increases and with that, the parent's compassion becomes stronger. At the same time, their anger decreases and their wish to punish becomes satisfied. Ideally, in the end, the child feels true remorse and the punisher feels true forgiveness with them. A spanking is a classic example where this "double ramp" can be observed. In order to work psychologically best for both sides, the punishment needs to take a certain time during which the mental focus is on the offense committed while the lesson to not repeat it is taught and learned. So a five-minute over-the-knee hand-spanking using a mild crescendo principle can probably reach the goal better than a single slap or beat.
Compassion is nature's way to help ensure that a punishment does not become too harsh or dangerous, but stays within safe limits. In some cases however, compassion can fail to fulfil this role, such as in cases of abuse.
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