Sympathy versus empathy. Sometimes we confuse the two. Can we get clearer on this? Is one better than the other?
Sympathy: “a feeling of care and concern for someone, often someone close, accompanied by a wish to see him better off or happier. Compared to pity, sympathy implies a greater sense of shared similarities together with a more profound personal engagement. However, sympathy, unlike empathy, does not involve a shared perspective or shared emotions, and while the facial expressions of sympathy do convey caring and concern, they do not convey shared distress.”
Empathy: “a person’s ability to recognize and share the emotions of another person, fictional character, or sentient being. It involves, first, seeing someone else’s situation from his perspective, and, second, sharing his emotions, including, if any, his distress.”
- To be able to see the world as others see it
- To be nonjudgmental
- To understand another person’s feelings
- To communicate your understanding of that person’s feelings
So, here’s a really important point about sympathy versus empathy: “Empathy, Brown explains, is…a more powerful choice than sympathy. Empathy enables us to relate to and console those in our lives, while sympathy distances us” (Huffington Post).
Always the helpful teacher, Brown has narrated a cute animated feature that further elaborates on the differences between empathy and sympathy:
What are some ways to improve your empathy? Recent and separate studies have indicated that a couple things many of us already do regularly can be helpful: reading and watching TV shows.
- Habit 1: Cultivate curiosity about strangers
- Habit 2: Challenge prejudices and discover commonalities
- Habit 3: Try another person’s life
- Habit 4: Listen hard—and open up
- Habit 5: Inspire mass action and social change
- Habit 6: Develop an ambitious imagination
Empathy: Why It Matters, and How to Get It, Krznaric’s 2014 book, is newly out in paperback. “Having spent the past decade studying empathy,” Brené Brown asserts, “I can say without hesitation that Roman’s work is exactly what we need to bring this powerful concept off the pages and into our lives. Empathy inspires with a unique combination of teaching, storytelling, and a serious call to action.”