move over sympathy, empathy took your spot
  • Blog By
    Ms. Sumita Sen Mazumdar
    Erode – KG Academic Coordinator
    The Indian Public School
    April 23, 2021 | In Blog

They do sound alike

For many people, empathy is a new-agey word that wasn’t around when they were kids. Of course, the word existed in the dictionary, but you never actually heard it. You had sympathy, which was mostly saying a few kind words when someone was in any kind of distress – I know how you feel. I feel sorry for you. I know this is a difficult time for you but it will pass soon. I’m so sorry for your loss. I understand your frustration, but I’m afraid there’s not much we can do about the situation, and so on. The words seemed heartfelt and appropriate to the situation and were supposed to make the recipient feel better. At least, that’s what we were conditioned into thinking.

find out if you're a sympathizer or an empathizer

They don’t mean the same thing 

One fine day, empathy emerged. At first, there was confusion and for some people, there still is. We already have sympathy, so why do we need another similar sounding word? What’s the difference, really? They’re both something to do with showing you care, right? Well, not quite. You see, when you express sympathy it can be somewhat presumptuous, condescending and judgemental. You may think you’re being nice by saying a few kind words to someone going through a difficult time, but by doing so, you may inadvertently convey that you know exactly what they are feeling (an impossible feat for anyone) and thereby a superior being or that you’re possibly in a better place than they are at the moment. In short, your words just knifed in their misery a little deeper, left them feeling even more powerless than they did before a conversation with you. 

So what’s different then?

Now let’s look at how empathy reacts differently from sympathy. Empathy, very simply, is just there for you, a companion in your miserable moment, nonjudgmental, humble, not assuming to know better, not evaluating anything. So that could sound like – 

Hey, I heard about what happened. Life is unpredictable for all of us. I’m here for you if you need me. 

I imagine this must be a frustrating situation. How can I help you? 

Thank you for sharing that with us. We are happy to listen any time. 

Notice the shift from feeling sorry for someone to feeling sorry with them? If you’re on the receiving end, empathy feels much better than sympathy, any day.

are you still sympathizing when you could be empathizing for a better relationship?

It’s about joy too! 

Now, it’s not only about sorrow, empathy is also about appropriately responding to the joy experienced by another person. A sign of true personal growth is when you are able to celebrate the joys and successes of other people and not just yours. So, here you should be able to feel happy ‘with’ them like it were your own happiness. 

Being able to empathize can help you on your way to becoming a well-rounded global citizen. If you haven’t figured out how to use empathy appropriately yet, it’s probably time you do!

Also read LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL, written by Ms Maheshwari Sridhar (Administrative Officer, TIPS).

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May 2024