Hierarchy of Spiritual Intelligence

Last updated on 8 November 2021

It’s pretty commonly understood that empathy is a state of mind, something temporary that comes and goes. We can become more skilled at getting into that state of mind, but what leads up to empathy? Does empathy lead to something else?

“I see empathy as a piece of compassion-building.”

Cindy Wigglesworth

Empathy Precedes Compassion

In her article in the Huffington Post, Cindy Wigglesworth lays out a four-level hierarchy of spiritual intelligence, which I’ve visualized below.

  1. Apathy: I don’t care. You are unimportant to me.
  2. Sympathy: I see you and feel sorry for you. As Dr. Brené Brown points out, sympathy drives disconnection.
  3. Empathy: I feel with you. Our shared vulnerability fuels our deep connection.
  4. Compassion: I feel with you and act skillfully to relieve your suffering. This is what Froukje Sleeswijk Visser calls detachment; I detach myself from our emotional connection to help you with increased understanding.
Hierarchy of Spiritual Intelligence

Besides communicating Wigglesworth’s hierarchy, this visualization shows some other things.

  • We usually don’t start from a place of apathy; we tend to fall down into it.
  • It’s OK if we fall down a level, as long as we can climb back up.
  • Help from above makes the climb a lot easier.
  • An act of compassion feels like standing on top of a mountain.

The Roadmap to Nobility

Wigglesworth has much more to say about empathy and spiritual intelligence. Here’s her TEDx talk (on YouTube), which outlines these concepts in much more detail. Any thoughts? Feel free to get in touch!

Video of Cindy Wigglesworth at TEDxLowerEastSide