Both sympathy and empathy are about caring through understanding. They are noble emotions which help us to help others cope with their troubles – if used correctly.
Sympathy has in it an extra element of approval and/or pity. This emotion indirectly gives justification to another person that their feelings are right and that they should go on feeling the way they are feeling. When we sympathize, we generally join in the feeling of another person.
Sympathy is great when we’re helping a friend deal with a death of a family member. Their feelings of loss and sadness are justified. They need to live through a time of mourning and sadness. We do need to express our pity for the hard times that our friend must endure. If we were to feel only empathy in this situation, we wouldn’t be true friends. We would come off as being a phony and unwilling to help our friend by living the feelings that our friend is living.
When someone has lost their job, there is only room for so much sympathy. If that person is still feeling depressed and frustrated after a couple of months, we must only empathize. Understand where the person is and care about their future. But tell them to get off their butt and do something about it. Push them toward action. Motivate them to put the effort in finding another job. They can’t sit around moaning for the rest of their life.
In this situation, if we continue to sympathize, we are actually encouraging the person to remain in their same state of desperation. We are giving them justification to remain where they are. Worst off, by sympathizing, we may be causing ourselves to have a cynical view about the work force and society. We will carry that emotion of frustration into our own job environment and become less productive. Now, that’s a real pity!
Sympathizing and empathizing are both noble traits. What is even more powerful is to have the wisdom to know when to sympathize and when to only empathize.
Let’s love the world together…
Danish Ahmed, blind visionary