Sympathy vs empathy. The world needs more empathy. If you can’t empathize then sometimes it’s best to just acknowledge a situation and … Well, shut up.
You see, sympathy is just that, acknowledging that someone has a pain, but also understanding that you can’t possibly understand the pain. Empathy is not only acknowledging a person’s pain, but having the ability to feel the pain from their perspective because of personal and similar experience. It’s very important in relationships whether in friendships, at work, or even in online comments – to know where to draw the line and understand whether or not you can truly empathize with a person.
As an example: Suppose there was some world event that caused a major offense to say— Gay Women in China. When I speak to a friend who happens to be a Gay Chinese woman, all I can do is say “I’m sorry about what has happened, you have my support”. And end it there. “Sympathy.” Now for me to try to Empathize would be perfectly wrong. Why? Because I am not Gay, I am not a Woman, and I have never been to China, so what possible grounds would I have to fully understand my friends perspective or pain. It would be offensive for me to act as if I did. I have zero point of reference. Now, given that lack of knowledge, it would be awesome for me to have an open conversation with any friend of mine who was a part of that demographic, just so that I could come closer to empathy (a place where again I could never totally reach) because that attempt is what we in this country and in this world are missing the most of in regards to cultural, racial, and political relations.
By having open conversations, I can gain understanding from them, I can learn about their perspective, but I could never be an authority on it, especially not enough to say, “well as a gay Chinese woman you should do this” or “you should respond to the situation like this”. That’s ridiculous. Plus, and this is important… I have to understand that if I ask a friend who is a gay Chinese woman a question about her life as a gay Chinese woman, I have to know that she is just one woman, one gay person, and one person from China and that she doesn’t represent every woman, every gay person, or every Chinese person. She is an individual. An individual by which her actions don’t represent the whole of any characteristic group that she belongs to and ALSO that the stereotypical characteristics of any of those groups (women, gay people, or Chinese) may not apply to her!!
Bottom line is 2 things. One, Unless you can empathize with a person, be cautious with trying to act like you understand, because you likely don’t. Two, don’t judge a person by the stereotypes of a group and don’t judge a group by the action of one individual. Sympathize WHEN you can, Empathize only IF you can, and either way, seek understanding before you speak. Hey, I love you guys. If you feel what I’m saying, please hit the subscribe button on my YouTube channel, and I’ll talk to you later.
Here’s an interesting video I found that animates the thought that Empathy is feeling “with” people.