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One Compassion, Many Means: A Big Two Analysis of Compassionate Behavior

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Abstract

Objectives

Compassion science has been informed and guided by Buddhist perspectives, but has yet to fully account for certain key Buddhist ideas about compassion. Skillful means and fierce compassion represent two such ideas, both of which pertain to compassionate actions that may not always appear compassionate to recipients or observers.

Methods

To better account for the variety of compassionate behavior evident in the Buddhist traditions, including but not limited to skillful means and fierce compassion, this paper reviews relevant theory and findings from compassion science through the lens of the Big Two Framework. The Big Two Framework distinguishes between two core dimensions of social cognition, namely communion (i.e., warmth, morality, and expressiveness) and agency (i.e., dominance, competence, and instrumentality).

Results

The Big Two Framework’s fundamental distinction between communion and agency appears useful for delineating forms of compassionate behavior. Additionally, the framework is helpful for considering behavior from actor versus recipient/observer perspectives, making it well-suited to account for compassionate actions that may not appear compassionate.

Conclusions

Reflecting on compassion in relation to the Big Two maps a richer understanding of the social cognition underlying diverse forms of compassionate behavior and offers an empirically tractable framework and terminology for advancing research on understudied expressions of compassion.

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I thank Dr. Judith Simmer-Brown and Dylan Leigh for their helpful feedback on this manuscript.

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Quaglia, J.T. One Compassion, Many Means: A Big Two Analysis of Compassionate Behavior. Mindfulness 14, 2430–2442 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12671-022-01895-7

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