“Like Daddy used to tell me: If you’re looking for sympathy, you can find it in the dictionary between “syphilis and “shit” .”
-Mama, circa ’00- ’11
Boy, was my mother a tough one. Whenever I moaned and groaned about a situation, she would blurt this phrase with no remorse. Growing up I always took it to heart because I thought she simply couldn’t care less about my emotions. Here I am, a twenty-four year old with children of my own now (I’m a teacher people, relax) and it finally clicks. I realized two things: 1) I was sensitive as hell in the midst of my own wrongdoings and 2) it wasn’t sympathy I wanted, rather empathy.
So often these words are brought up in the same conversation and often times they are mistaken for other things. Sympathy is the capacity to acknowledge the struggles and/or losses of another person while empathy, on the other hand, is the capacity to connect and feel the struggle and/or losses of another because of your own personal circumstances. Empathy is on a much deeper level than sympathy for the simple fact that it requires your own feelings to get involved.
A plethora of destructive things are going on in the world and we talk about them for a day or two because we exude sympathy. Many people can’t seem to be empathetic though due to not even trying to connect and hone in on their feelings or because they feel incapable of relating. Now don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with sending sympathetic words of encouragement, but often it does nothing. Digging deeper and showing a friend that you too, can understand and feel what they are going through not only makes a person feel like they are not alone but also heals them in the process. Furthermore, it allows us as people to build stronger interpersonal relationships and ultimately a more attached community. Instead of knocking a person down, making them feel a sense of shame, or sending a detached “I’m sorry to hear that”, try to connect with your innermost self to better help another.
Today’s Keyword: immerse (v.): involve oneself deeply in a particular activity or interests
When it comes to the matters of the heart, true empathy requires immersion. Whether it be a friend or coworker, taking a moment to become engaged with their emotions for just a moment can bring about great things. But! Empathy requires a strong knowledge of your own experiences and actual acknowledgment of your sorrows and happiness. People say you will never know until you walk a mile in another’s shoes; empathy is just that but it requires knowing the miles you’ve walked in your own shoes first. The problem with the world today is that we lack empathy as people. For a second this week, take a moment to see it from another’s perspective. Listen and try to connect in some way. Sometimes the sympathy you’re offering is the empathy you’re lacking.
Go for full immersion.
Sympathy vs Empathy…knowing the difference is,