From Never Enough by William Voegeli

“Etymologically, “compassion” means to suffer together. “Together,” however, is different from “identically.” Compassion is not the same as selflessness, and not really the opposite of selfishness. Rather, it provides a basis for helping other people that is materially disinterested but emotionally self-regarding. As Rousseau wrote in Emile, “[W]hen the strength of an expansive soul makes me identify myself with my fellow, and I feel that I am, so to speak, in him, it is in order not to suffer that I do not want him to suffer. I am interested in him for love of myself. . . .” Or, as Jean Bethke Elshtain has said, “Pity is about how deeply I can feel. And in order to feel this way, to experience the rush of my own pious reaction, I need victims the way an addict needs drugs.”

At the level of moral psychology, the difficulty arises when I can alleviate my suffering, which is brought on by the evidence of your suffering, despite the continuation of your suffering, despite the collateral damage my response inflicts on bystanders, and even despite the creation of new and worse problems for you. Because of compassion we suffer together. I help you in order that I might feel better. But once I do feel better, compassion has done its work—and provides no basis for me to concern myself with all the messy implications of whatever I’ve done for (or to) you.”

Excerpt From: William Voegeli. “Never Enough.” iBooks.