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  • Jay Riggs

Empathy vs. Sympathy



What is the difference between Empathy and Sympathy?


em·pa·thy /ˈempəTHē/

noun

  1. the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.

Empathy is the capacity to understand or feel what another person is experiencing from within their frame of reference, that is, the capacity to place oneself in another's position.


sym·pa·thy /ˈsimpəTHē/

noun

  1. feelings of pity and sorrow for someone else's misfortune.

Sympathy is the perception, understanding, and reaction to the distress or need of another person, place, or creature.


Empathy is a term we use for the ability to understand other people's feelings as if we were having them ourselves. ... Sympathy refers to the ability to take part in someone else's feelings, mostly by feeling sorrowful about their misfortune.


Merriam-Webster defines empathy as "the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner". Merriam-Webster defines that sympathy is when you share the feelings of another, whereas empathy is often used to mean when you share the feelings of another more acutely.


Basically, where Sympathy is feeling bad for someone else, Empathy is being able to place yourself in their shoes and have a willingness to share the challenge with them.



Why is understanding this important?


Right now in America, we have a lot of division. We have liberal and conservative, black and white, pro-police and anti-police, not to mention the rise of socialist lawmakers, anarchists, and other groups. These divisions are more apparent today than at any time in recent history. The interaction has gone beyond differing opinions, discussions, and civil arguments (which are encouraged by our system of government), and have degraded into hatred, intolerance, and all-out violence. I have personally witnessed these unfortunate developments on all sides. This is not merely one groups fault. This tense time we are going through as a nation and as a people represents a failure to communicate. It shows a failure of ALL OF US to have Empathy for one another and engage in productive conversation, really making the effort to understand each other's positions, the reasons for them, and clearly communicate with one another useful and realistic changes that can and should be made.

"This tense time we are going through as a nation and as a people represents a failure to communicate."


People don't need Sympathy, and they don't like it.


I have a good friend who recently lost his wife to cancer. They were very much in love and it has hit him hard and deep. He was an Army Ranger. He is a very no-nonsense type of individual. He does not like meaningless small talk or bs. He likes things clear, concise, and purposeful. He definitely does not want or need pity. He does not need Sympathy. He is however human. He does have feelings. And like all humans, he does need interaction. He needs to feel love. He needs to know there are people who care for and support him. He needs to talk. He needs Empathy.


Pity is useless. If you say, "I feel so bad for those starving kids in Africa. Do you see their malnourished bellies? Hundreds of them die every day. It's so sad." Ok, you have recognized a problem, and it makes you sad. What are you going to do about it? If you really made the effort to go to the next mental step, you would probably visualize what their lives are truly like, and allow it to move you so much that you begin to support a child, or give to a reputable international organization that provides food, medicine, education, and other assistance. You would be acting with Empathy.



Empathy and Division


Racism has always been an issue in the world. There are many points of view, many different experiences, and many voices in the international conversation. But one thing all people can agree on is racism is wrong. In America right now, we have reached another tipping point in the history of race. The most notable in the past were 1776 when the nation's declaration stated that we believe that ALL people are created equal. That was a huge historical step for mankind worldwide as most nations embraced slavery at the time. Later in 1861 America had a civil war due mostly to the fact that the government wanted to finally outlaw slavery which would have huge impacts on the economy of the southern states as they relied on slave labor at the time. By the 1960's slavery had been outlawed for almost 100 years, but there was still significant inequality and segregation. A movement began to change that and led to many new laws passed creating more fairness and opportunity for black and minority Americans.


Fast-forward to today. In 2020, there are over 40 Million people worldwide still suffering in various forms of actual slavery, mostly in 3rd world or developing countries. About 50 percent toil in forced labor slavery in industries where manual labor is needed—such as farming, ranching, logging, mining, fishing, and brick making—and in service industries working as dishwashers, janitors, gardeners, and maids. About 12.5 percent are trapped in forced prostitution sex slavery. About 37.5 percent are trapped in forced marriages. About 25 percent of today’s slaves are children.


"This is not the time for division. This is the time for all races to have Empathy for one another and engage in some difficult, and brutally honest discussions and decide how to make things better."

Thankfully in America, we do not have any of that kind of slavery. And in the brief 244 years of our existence, we lead the world in civil rights, race equality, and in a democratic system of government where new laws can be created to continue this forward momentum and growth.

That being said, we still have a long way to go. There are still remnants in our systems and society of anti-black and anti-minority laws, rules, traditions, and processes. In 2020, we have reached another historical date in America's race journey where people are rising up, shouting out, and demanding change. This is not the time for division. This is the time for all races to have Empathy for one another and engage in difficult, and brutally honest discussions and decide how to make things better. America's entire journey over 244 years has been to find ways to become a better people. And we have. We lead the world in almost every category that measures good. And we need to continue to endeavor to be that people that strive for excellence in all areas. That fight to create freedom, equality, and prosperity for all people, of all races, and all backgrounds. By understanding how to have Empathy for each other, we can better understand each other's needs and desires, and we can work together to create a better world.

"By understanding how to have Empathy for each other, we can better understand each other's needs and desires, and we can work together to create a better world. "


Solutions


I don't pretend to have all the answers to the world's problems. I am just one person. I do however know that if we are to solve these challenges we will need to do it together. We will need to all recognize there is more that binds the human race together than separates us. If COVID-19 should teach us anything it is that we all, humans, inhabit this planet together. It should teach us that if a virus does not discriminate than neither should we. The virus is a great teaching aid. It does not see skin color or income class. It does not see age or sex. It does not see liberal or conservative. It does not see American or Chinese. The virus looks at all of us as humans. How is it that a deadly virus, that seeks only to destroy us, treats humans more equally that we treat each other?

"How is it that a deadly virus, that seeks only to destroy us, treats humans more equally that we treat each other?"

We as the human inhabitants of this planet, need to come to practice Empathy toward one another and demand from each other that the basis of our relationships be the things we have in common. We need to celebrate those continually. Then sit down and discuss the things we disagree on and find solutions. Failure to communicate is not an option if we are to continue to thrive as a species.





#EmpathyVsSympathy

#JRTV

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