Compassionate Misanthropy

I have, over the last few posts, been discussing the often overlooked key to a slow and happy life and that is compassion; caring for the well being of other people (and animals, plants, and everything really), to recognise that we are all interconnected.

In Alain De Botton’s excellent book “Status Anxiety” he discusses the stress and anxiety caused by worrying about what other people think of you. He offers several ways of undoing or alleviating this stress, one of them is to adopt a misanthropic attitude.

You recognise that other peoples opinions, viewpoints and conclusions are often based on limited or incorrect information and that those opinions mean nothing at all. You recognise people as the small minded and self centred beings that they often are and choose to ignore their ignorant opinions.

This may sound harsh but is, in fact, in a world where opinion is rampant and people cannot wait to express theirs (usually through the perceived safety of the internet), a sensible attitude to adopt. Otherwise you will quickly be driven crazy by people telling you that you are wrong or suggesting different ways of doing things.

Particularly if you are doing something that goes against the grain, the perceived norm (like slowing down for example!).

But how does this fit with the notion of compassion? Can you be compassionate and misanthropic? Of course you can! And I would even go as far as suggesting that a slight misanthropic viewpoint can help you become more compassionate, patient and understanding.

Therefore I have recently adopted a position of “compassionate misanthropy”, which can be summed up as such:

“People are stupid. And I include myself in that generalisation”

By accepting this as a presupposition it does several positive things:

  1. It stops you from worrying about what other people think.
  2. It makes you less likely to judge as you recognise that you are just as stupid, ill informed and prone to leaping to incorrect conclusions as the next person.
  3. It makes you more patient and understanding (as your expectations of how people should act are lower).

How can you begin to be more compassionately misanthropic today?


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