Dear Fellow Word Nerds: What Word = Empathy + Consideration?


Historically, I haven't been a person who is drawn with any strength to build altars, burn sage, or treat certain objects as sacred. My religious group of origin, Mennonites, kept no idols. Even images of Jesus or Mary were absent. The church in which I was raised found itself in a struggle about a proposed plain wooden cross at the front of the sanctuary and had to hold a members vote on the matter. Idols, even of a religious nature, were considered false, distractions from the true nature of worship.

Even though I have not been an active part of the Mennonite church since I was a teenager, having quit myself of theism altogether at 19, this impulse to direct my attention to source materials rather than symbols of source materials has stuck with me. This is why it's striking when I do find myself attracted to a particular object as some kind of talisman or source of power. More striking is how strongly I feel now about a talisman I lost at a recent conference.

This is what the talisman I lost looked like, although mine had the word "compassion" stamped into it:


I received the necklace as a gift at the BlogHer 15 conference, and I chose to have the word "compassion" on it as a reminder to myself not only to be kind but also to strive for a deeper sense of empathy with people with whom I disagree. As an activist and rather vocal advocate, I come into contact with a lot of disagreement on a daily basis, and the easy path is to speak over, insult, or ignore those who disagree with me. The harder and much more fruitful path is to meet them on the level and learn their position. When I chose "compassion", I wanted to remember to take that harder path.

Somehow, an Our Lady of Fátima medal also found its way onto the necklace. I'm obviously not Catholic, but I kept her there nonetheless. I think her history of visions and miracles had a hopefulness I need to feel more.

When I came back from Mom 2.0 Summit at the end of April, this necklace somehow didn't make it back with me. My theory is that I slung it over the back corner of a chair where it blended into the striped upholstery. I think of it every day now when I unconsciously reach for it, and while I hope a hotel maid was as happy to find my talismans as I was to wear them, I miss that damn necklace.

It was a piece I put on every time I felt anxious about leaving the house or meeting with a client. When I wanted to shout down racists or homophobes on the internet, I pressed it between my thumb and forefinger and breathed through the impulse. It was a pause before choosing action. Over the last many months, that necklace became a reminder of my stronger, kinder self.  It said Hold on, you can do this.

I have been feeling kind of ridiculous about missing it so much, though — it's like I'm whining about my precious baby blanket — but I've decided to be okay with it. That blue and white blanket I had as a little kid was my best damn friend, and it saw me through some tough times when I was two and three and four years old.

Which brings me to my point:

I'm in the market to replace this (baby blanket) necklace, but I want to make a word change. Last year, the word "compassion" seemed to fit, but after reading strict definitions of the word, I don't like it as much anymore. "A feeling of wanting to help someone who is sick, hungry, in trouble, etc." brings along a certain amount of judgement and superiority when entering into difficult communications with people whose situations I don't already know, and that's not the tack I want to take in my dealings with people. (I mean, a lot of the time I do judge people who disagree with me, but I'm working on that.)

Give me some help, my fellow word nerds. Is there a word that will do the work of both "empathy" and "consideration" simultaneously?