Community & Government

Cultivating Compassion

Cornel West

Lesson time 11:54 min

In this lesson, Cornel explains how compassion is a form of love that is cultivated by ridding yourself of egoism.

Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars

Topics include: Love, Death, and Transformation • Case Study: Eugene O’Neill on Pity vs. Compassion


[MUSIC PLAYING] - Compassion is a particular form of love. It is an exercise of compassion with and targeting on other people, on strangers, on neighbors, on enemies-- whatever category of persons one puts forward. And it's always, like any form of love, a kind of death, because there's no compassion without some killing of one's own narcissism, without murdering one's own egoism. And love is transformative, which means it takes us from one state to another. So for example, when you fall in deep love-- we're not just talking about lust-- when you fall in deep love, there's a certain death of aspects of yourself, and there is the emergence of other aspects of yourself that are now entwined with that significant other. So there is a new person, new being emerging out of that old person and old being that ought to be less narcissistic, less egoistic, and more concerned with the welfare of the other. And so this sense of dying into a new being, dying into a new relationship, dying into a new mode of being in the world-- almost a kind of metamorphosis, conversion. It's no accident that the Jewish brothers and sisters who wrote that Christian New Testament called it metanoia, which is this turning of the soul and a conversion from an old being to a new being. [MUSIC PLAYING] What happens when love seizes hold of one, and changes and transforms one into somebody else, even though you're the same person? So there's continuities and there's discontinuities. Now, compassion is a form of love, because love takes so many different forms. There's friendship and romance, and you can fall in love with texts. And some people in love with Prince. Some people are in love with Barbra Streisand. Some people are in love with Celia Cruz. And it's understandable, because they have deeply changed your life, maybe even transformed your life. You see? And so compassion as a moral practice is a sensitivity that has semblances to what love is all about. So it's allowed you to move away from your lack of care and lack of concern for others to more care and more concern for others. So it's always that transformation taking place. And it takes a number of different forms-- politically, ideologically, and different races, and genders, and so forth, and so on. It's profoundly human. Every human society must have forms of cultivation of compassion, formation of attention, some sense of critical sensibility-- no matter what the scope is-- and in the end, some concern about courage, in terms of who enlist in your army to protect your nation-state, or who protects your family, or who protects your friends, and so forth and so on. That's what it is to talk about identity. There's a lot of people-- lot of talk about identity these days, in terms of racial identity, and gender identity, and so forth. But you see, in the end, identity's fundamentally about the desire for protection, association, and recognition. Every human being needs that. Ev...

About the Instructor

Cornel West is one of the most profound, diverse, and intellectual thinkers of our time. Now he’s inviting you into the depths of his brilliant mind to teach you how thinking like a philosopher can help you navigate your personal relationships, your decision-making, and your everyday life by looking at the world from a completely different point of view.

Featured Masterclass Instructor

Cornel West

Distinguished philosopher Cornel West teaches you how to think more deeply, connect more closely, and live a more fruitful and meaningful life.

Explore the Class
Sign Up