In "On Compassion," the author considers where compassion and empathy come from. She says that in New York, people learn to be empathetic by sympathizing with all of the homeless people there. She further suggests that although it is sad and unfortunate that there are so many homeless people in New York, a benefit of this is that the wealthier inhabitants of the city are forced to confront the problem of homelessness and thus forced to develop their own empathy. If these homeless people did not exist, then the wealthier inhabitants would have fewer opportunities, if any at all, to develop their empathy.
The author of "On Compassion" also compares the homelessness problem in New York to the role of drama in ancient Greece. She suggests that in ancient Greece, people would learn empathy and compassion through the examples they would see on the stage. Indeed, in ancient Greece, plays were a much more popular and universally available form of entertainment than they are today. The author argues that today, in New York, the increasing homelessness in the city has taken the place of ancient Greek theatre as the main way in which people develop empathy.
In "The Men We Carry in Our Minds," the author likewise explores the theme of empathy. He considers how problematic it is for men to empathize with women and vice versa. The author explains that he had always assumed that women had easier lives than men because he thought women had fewer expectations of them. He also says that it came as a surprise to him that, from a woman's perspective, these fewer expectations were synonymous with fewer opportunities and more limitations.
While both essays explore the theme of empathy, "On Compassion" focuses more on how we develop empathy, whereas "The Men We Carry in Our Minds" focuses on why it is important to have empathy. The former suggests that although homelessness is a problem, it can help us to develop empathy. The latter argues that it is important to try to empathize with one another in order to better understand and appreciate different perspectives.