You may often hear the words empathy and sympathy used interchangeably. I know I have. However, these words are incredibly distinct in meaning and, in my opinion, should not be used for one another. I think it can be hard to understand the difference between empathy and sympathy, as they both can be used to approach someone else’s situation or problem that they might be facing.
To help you better understand the difference between the two, I’m going to give you two scenarios; So, let’s say you are walking down the footway when you notice a gaping hole in the earth ahead of you. Tens of people swarm the area, so you quickly step up to the hole to see the commotion. Inside the crater sits a young woman covered in mud and debris. She appears to be distressed.
Immediately, you feel the woman, as it seems like there is no getting out of this tricky situation, you, look down the hole and tell her, I’m sorry you are stuck there. I feel for you.” This is sympathy. Sympathy is feeling compassion and sorrow for someone else’s hardship. By peering down the hole and seeing a person stuck below, you felt sorry for her situation. Now let’s look at an example of empathy in the scenario used to explain sympathy.
Instead of simply peering down the hole, you crawl down it to the woman’s level. You grab some mud, and you put it on yourself. Then, looking around, you say; `Oh wow, I feel with you. Being stuck here is incredibly frightening,` this is empathy. Empathy involves putting yourself in the shoes of another to understand their situation and emotions better.
It requires understanding from perspective that is not your own. While sympathy is feeling for, empathy is feeling with. So why do you think empathy is better? I believe better, empathy is stronger than sympathy. Being able to take on someone else’s feelings genuinely feel the emotions they are feeling with them, can help someone feel heard. Empathy creates connection and understanding.
- Joan Atuhwera is a Business Administration Graduate, a Human Rights activist and writer with over five years’ experience in pursuing justice for others via her keyboard. She can also be reached via email: [email protected] or WhatsApp +256774334595
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