Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The Difference Between Sympathy and Empathy

A 13-year-old student asked me the other day, "What's the difference between sympathy and empathy?" I happened to have a poem, written years ago, to explain. Here's an excerpt:

Sympathy is what you SHOW to others; Empathy is what you FEEL for them.
Sympathy is external; Empathy is internal.
Sympathy is a polite action; Empathy is a compassionate one.
Sympathy is expected in polite society; but Empathy is a welcome, cherished surprise.
Sympathy can be expressed by greeting cards; Empathy is only expressed in sincere words and/or hugs.
Sympathy is announced; empathy is understood.
Sympathy shows caring; Empathy creates sharing.
Sympathy is to shine another’s beaten-up shoes; Empathy is to wear those shoes.

Loss is cluttered by the sympathetic shoe-shiners,
And simplified by those who share our burdens,
Leaving us a smaller fraction of grief to bear alone.