Sympathy and Empathy. Not the same thing. Not even two sides of the same coin. Sympathy is kindness at a distance often with a little bit of judgment thrown in. Empathy is kindness up close and personal with a lot of acceptance thrown in. You send a card with sympathy. You sit next to someone with empathy.
With empathy, you lean in. You recognize that you can’t fix it, but you can be present. And you can bear witness to a difficult part of someone else’s journey.
Empaths do this naturally – it is a big part of who we are. Not everyone will feel with the same intensity as empaths. Not everyone will just “know” how someone is feeling by being near them without a word being uttered. But everyone can foster their empathy by simply observing and listening and STAYING PRESENT to another person.
Why would someone want to learn to give or receive empathy? Why not just stay more comfortable in sympathy? Below is a short video by Brene Brown on Sympathy vs. Empathy – and if a picture is worth a thousand words, video is worth at least 10,000. This short video illustrates beautifully (and with humor) why empathy is the way to go.
“Feelings of pity and sorrow for someone else’s misfortune” is the Google definition of sympathy. Whereas, “The ability to understand and share the feelings of another” is the Google definition of empathy. Which would you rather give and/or receive?