The weakness of compassion as a moral motivator or principle of action is that it depends on an immediate encounter with a suffering victim in order to be activated. Usually these compassionate impulses do not have a lasting influence on one's actions. The power of the imagination and imaginative fiction (or art) is that these permit compassion to be extended far beyond the limited confines of the immediate compassionate encounter or experience. For instance, the ending of Coetzee's novel Disgrace (1999) is guaranteed to bring tears to any but the most hard-hearted reader's eyes. The same is true of much fiction, despite the fictionality of the suffering characters, whether humans or animals
The compassionate imagination also allows compassion to be taught and nurtured through art, drama, literature, music and film. Hence the power of Coetzee's "sympathetic imagination". In the context of an ethic of care, thanks to imaginative art, compassion can flourish. Some prefer to use the term "empathy", since compassion and sympathy are associated with pity. Nonetheless, compassion needn't be reduced to mere pity, but can be seen as a capacity to identify with the suffering of an other, and not necessarily a human other. On their own, compassion and the imagination are remarkable human capacities; combined they amount to something almost marvelous.