Compassion is not empathy. We tend to use the words interchangeably, though the difference between the two, though subtle, is significant. Empathy is an instinctual awareness of the feelings of others, which manifests in sensations which are, if not exactly the same, then similar, to those felt by the object of our thoughts. On the face of it empathy is a good thing, but it is, in fact, neither good nor bad by its nature, though it has the potential to be both. We may empathise with the suffering of another, thus helping us to understand what it is that…

We have a tendency to throw around the word ‘hero’. In doing so we make the term something of a banality. We speak, for instance, of the ‘heroic effort’ of the sportsman, and say of someone who has once drew criticism and now draws praise that she has gone from ‘zero to hero’. Words change in meaning with use, but the word ‘hero’ is perhaps one we should take care of. In using it so freely we risk inflating the currency, if I can put it that way: consider the way in which the word ‘surreal’, once denoting that an…

‘St. Michael Vanquishing Satan’ (1518) by Raphael

I read somewhere — and it may well be apocryphal or a case of misattribution — that Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Nobel laureate and author of The Gulag Archipelago, once wrote down every immoral thing that he’d ever done (or at least, that he could remember doing).

Whether he did or didn’t do this is irrelevant, at least for the purposes of this post. We know that writing is effective therapy, and by its nature within the grasp of any literate person. By committing words to the page we can, alone and in our own time, help ourselves to deal with emotional…

‘The Monk’ (1897) by Konstantin Savitsky

We all have regrets. I have many. If we were to dwell on these regrets they might render us inert.

But to obsess over perceived past failures is its own form of failure. To think your actions so important that they demand your constant attention is its own kind of narcissism. Better, I think, to acknowledge our errors and use them as fuel as best we can.

We may have lost the means to deal with our failings, and this is an area that fascinates me. There seems to be a void at the heart of our culture, and this…

Cristóbal Doblas

Essayist and book critic. Writer of ‘Without Wax’, to be published in 2020. ‘Sit in your cell and the cell will teach you all.’

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