Sympathy and Empathy

When someone is in difficulty, in a dark hole in their lives:

Sympathy:

standing on the edge, calling “I’m so sorry for you” down into the darkness
and quietly thinking “How awful, I’d never get myself in that situation”

Empathy:

climbing down into the darkness with them, to let them know you’re there
knowing that the other person is just like you – in another time, another place, it could so easily be you who finds yourself in this darkness 

Sympathy: a judgement of the other, a standing apart.

Empathy: seeing their humanity, yours, and the fragile existence you both share.

Sympathy tries to fix or rescue, always from a distance.

Empathy comes in close, knowing that there’s often nothing to be fixed, and that it’s relationship that matters the most.

This distinction, so clear and powerful, is from Brené Brown, and beautifully illustrated in this short video inspired by one of her talks at London’s RSA.

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