From Sympathy to Empathy

If we look to the media, we can make assumptions that the world is all over the place.  There is a lot going on about hate, racism and much discrimination towards people who are different.  I remember when I was younger, these issues were still prevalent, but there seemed to be more tolerance towards people who were different.  Unfortunately, the stereotype and prejudice was about the same.

I thought with my generation, it would be different.  But, it really wasn’t…  In time, I noticed this naive sense of arrogance that comes with our youth; we think we may know ourselves better and do a better job at being better people in the world.  I think we all try to do our own job in trying to stand up for what is right.  That’s quite apparent.  The error, I notice, is not in our ability to stand up.  We do a sufficient job in sharing our views and opinions. That is quite noticeable (no snark intended).

The error is not that we take the initiative to stand up, but in how we stand up.  We try to lead by what we say, rather than by setting an example.  Many times, we do not consider our actions and behaviors, especially when it comes to how we speak and treat others.  Sadly, we sometimes do not consider how we impact or affect others.  We can often neglect their point-of-views and their own stories…  I find this happens as a weakness in our character.  We should not be who the world wants us to be.  We should be who we want to be, a better version of ourselves.

We can even assess this by our emotions towards one another.  Clearly, it seems most people can sympathize with others.  The question is: do we emphasize with others?  Let’s define both terms:

 

Empathy

The dictionary defines empathy as:

Identification with and understanding of another’s situation, feelings, and motives

Wikipedia defines empathy as:

The capacity to understand or feel what another person is experiencing from within the other person’s frame of reference.

 

Sympathy

The dictionary defines sympathy as:

The feeling that you care about and are sorry about someone else’s trouble, grief, misfortune, etc.

Wikipedia defines sympathy as:

The perception, understanding, and reaction to the distress or need of another life form.

 

I believe, in a way, I have failed to be empathetic throughout my life.  I am empathetic, but most of time, I do not feel that way.  You see.  Empathy takes work.  Sympathy is the recognition for the suffering or emotions another person encounters.  Empathy feels what someone else is feeling by placing oneself in another person’s shoes.  We say sorry and feel bad when others come across misfortunes, griefs, sufferings, etc.  As I’ve learned, that’s sympathy.

Empathy is when we actually feel bad. Our feeling for other people’s feelings are to weigh on our hearts.  You can even look to the Bible for references to our need for empathy.  In the Letter to the Galatians, Saint Paul said, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2 NKJV).  When we bear one another’s burden, when we carry what someone else carries, we should actually feel it.

That’s the beautiful thing about compassion when it comes to our character and growth.  Compassion sends us beyond the point of sympathy into the levels of empathy for others.  We don’t only recognize the sufferings of others, we actually feel what they are suffering: we identify with them.  When Lazarus died, Jesus Christ didn’t show just the necessary condolences, but instead, “Jesus Wept” (John 11:35 NKJV).  He lost Lazarus and identified with those who lost Lazarus.  It seems interesting to me that since the Son of God could, and knew he would, bring Lazarus back from dead, that he still wept.  Jesus showed true compassion.  His action in weeping was real empathy.

I’m not saying we all need to cry for another.  Though, at times, when others suffer, we should weep with one another.  We should, at least, show compassion and try to empathize with others.  I know that for men, empathy can be a difficult feeling to show.  At least for me, empathy is a difficult emotion to evoke.  Over time, empathy has become a difficult emotion for me to access right away.  Part of that is due to my personality: I am first inclined to think than to feel.  That’s just part of my nature.  Empathy is still there, especially when I need it to be there.  When bad things happen to people, I don’t just feel bad, but feel what other people must be feeling.  It’s something I definitely need to work on.  I hope we all consider working on developing and accessing empathetic emotions.

In order to become more aware of our empathetic emotions, we may need to allow our hearts to use our imagination; we need to place our minds in the perspectives of other people.  Part of the problem is we have lost our ability to love another.

Here’s an observation: only a certain amount of people use the internet, or even social media.  As we have seen, people with the most radical beliefs and opinions share their views on media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, etc.  Keeping in mind this is a small portion of society, there appears to be a lack of empathy and kindness towards one another.  As we have all learned, the internet can be a mean place, where the darkest emotions of people are expressed behind a computer screen.  The internet is not the only place.  I see this in physical interactions, where there also seems to be a lack of empathy for one another; sometimes, there is even a lack of sympathy for one another.  Next time you’re in public, take notice of the way others treat others (most of all, how we treat others).

It’s because of silly things like political views, strong opinions, or cultural differences, we make each other out to be enemies.  Even Jesus said, “love your enemies” and “do good to those who hate you” (Matthew 5:44 NKJV). We should not respond by neglecting, disliking, or hating one another.  Instead, we should love one another.  We should do good things to other people and for other people.  In our behavior and actions, we need to be present with others by empathizing and showing compassion.  Sometimes, empathizing requires is to use our imagination, in order to feel what another person must be feeling from their perspective.  I believe Jesus has done that with all of us, that He has felt what we felt, because He love us and has shown compassion towards us.

At the root of all this is our character, our heart: we need to sincerely love one another.  Our hearts need to be filled with the love of God.  I know that it can be very difficult to be patient with rude or unkind people who have either been hateful or unloving towards you, but remember that we may have even been like them at one point in life. Keeping that in mind will allow us to persevere with mercy and patient. Regardless of how other people view us or treat us, someone needs to love first. So, why not start with ourselves? Someone needs to cross that boundary line in order to love one another.

Don’t give up on loving.  Eventually, love will defeat all racism, prejudices, etc.  Love will eliminate all the foolish opinions or petty differences we have.  Love will destroy hate, because love is exactly the feeling God has for every single human on this planet.  Even though we may be emotionally disconnected or just caught up in our own lives, this does not mean that we can simply ignore the greatness and mysterious power of love.  Love fulfills our life as humans and without love we are truly nothing.  The Bible once stated, “Though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:2).  In this respect, love is more than just a possibility of mankind, but an absolute necessity to life.

Love will transcend our absent feelings, beyond sympathy, to the compassionate feelings of empathy for one another.  By identifying with one another, empathy will allow us to feel for others so that can truly comfort others and possibly help one another.  Empathy can motivate us to do good things and make this world a better place to live, at least while we are still here.  In this way, love can change the world.  God has shown us the way of love, because He has first loved us.  He will never stop loving us, because absolutely nothing in this world or the life to come can separate us from the love of God.

 

For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

— Romans 8:38-39 (NLT)

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