Sympathy, Empathy, & Compassion

kelly airhart


I wrote this the other day on my personal blog. Now my heart is calling me to share it here: 

It is 3:19am.

I can't sleep. It's my allergies. They are making my throat feel like it is on fire and my eyes are puffy and heavy. However, because I got up to take an allergy pill, my body decided I needed to pee, and then apparently stay awake and get angry about things beyond my here we are.

I spoke to a friend once about the difference between sympathy, empathy, and compassion. And tonight my mind is whirling and swirling--wondering what happened to any of these things?

I feel so many of us are sympathetic for workers going without pay, or families who have lost a love one to an illegal immigrant--but it is surface level. We care just enough to feel sorry for them, but have no real plan of action, other than to maybe offer our love and prayers and hope things turn around quickly. It's not a bad thing, but it's not really an earth shattering thing either. It is the basic form of love. We do "just enough," if anything at all...The truth is, so many of us have our own lives, with our own problems, and we are rightfully just to focus on those problems--because taking care of one's self is the first priority. If everyone in this world was responsible for themselves, we would be in a much better shape I suppose. But here is where the other empathy and compassion come into play....not everyone is at a place to 100% fully take care of themselves because they are at some sort of disadvantage. And unless you can understand this, you will lack empathy and compassion for other human beings during their time of need. Again, nothing wrong with sympathy--it is better than not feeling anything at all, or feeling thoughts of bitterness and hate towards those who are struggling. It is still a feeling of love. And the world needs love more than ever right now....

Empathy is a shared feeling. It is often confused with compassion. But is not a bad thing. It is acting upon the sympathy you feel, because you have a personal understanding in how much a certain situation hurts another human being from experience. You have been know. And this brings great comfort in times of communicating and helping others who feel lost and alone in their time of peril. When we come from an empathetic standpoint, we tend to act because we too feel that injustice at a personal level. Like say for instance, me reaching out to another mother who has lost their child is an empathic standpoint. I know, on some level, what she is feeling because I too lost a child. I also know what it feels like to have others not understand this feeling and offer blind sympathy, not really knowing how to follow through. It is a very frustrating feeling for the recipient of such shallow emotion, because you appreciate the love, but still feel lost and alone. The person who offered you the sympathy gets to continue on their own path, while you sit in the dark dealing with pain that very few people understand or speak of freely. (I could get off into a whole other rant about how we tell people to not be open with their problems, and the problems that single act causes--but I will save that for another blog I guess.) When someone is empathetic, there is a certain sense of comfort knowing that they are offering feelings from a place of understanding. BUT, what if you have NEVER known deep sorrow, stress, trauma, depression, hurt, disability, certain disadvantages, complicated grief, or the other certain pain that someone is going through? How do you react then? Here is where I think the importance of compassion really comes in...

Compassion is more than just feeling sorry for someone, or acting out of understanding. It is the greatest form of love in my opinion. You see someone hurting, so without judgement or understanding, you take some sort of action. You love freely and without rules or regulations of your love. You help others in need, not because you personally feel one way or another on some sort of issue--you just see someone in need, so you help the best you can. Because the truth is, you don't have to know what someone is going through to see that they are hurting. Even though empathy has it's place in helping people and I truly believe in it's importance, compassion is key to our world changing for the better. So many of us feel lost on where to begin. But if we just simply woke up every morning with the thought that we can love freely and help others who don't share the same beliefs as us, or same stories as us, then we would see a shift. If we opened our eyes to one another's struggles and chose to learn more and fight less, then we would see a shift. If we simply chose to let go of our anger and pride, and how much we have personally worked for this or that, and gave just a little bit more without feeling like it is a burden to help others--we would see a shift.

I don't know it is 3:54am on a Friday, and I should be sleeping because I have been so tired lately. But I once read somewhere that the greatest injustice of the Holocaust was not only Hitler and all the terrible horrible things he did, but the people who knew about all the people suffering and did nothing.

I wake up every morning feeling like I'm not doing enough. I'm not saying enough--because as much as I don't really care about what people think of me...I don't really like conflict either. It is uncomfortable to put your thoughts out there knowing that people will jump down your throat or look down on you if you have a different set of beliefs than them. But how can I change anything if I don't say anything?

I don't have a political side. I see all sides hurting and my heart goes out to the world. There are so many people struggling, and I wish I could help them all. I guess that is where sympathy comes into play. I am truly sympathetic and do totally offer my love. But I want to be boldly and wildly compassionate too. I want to be able to do more than just say, "Oh that sucks, I'm sorry." I want to bring change, and be change.

So tonight, or really this morning.... I ask you to think compassionately at what is going on in our country. Don't jump to politics here. I am talking about pride and judgement. It is everywhere. It is maddening. It is hurting all of us. Before you take a different stance on someone's pain, because you were raised differently, or hurt the same but had a different outcome, take a moment to notice that all of these people are human beings, made from the same creator as you. The same force of life that was breathed into you, was once breathed into them. We all have purpose. We all have a place in the world. All hope is not lost for mankind...but there is so much of mankind walking around feeling isolated and alone without hope.

Take some action you guys. Put aside your pride, practice true compassion and love, and before you get angry because someone else broke the system and it's not fair or not your problem--realize that the only way to fix any problem is by educating the mind and fueling the heart. We are not going to get anywhere with anger and blame. Sympathy, empathy, and mostly compassion have to come into play...we are only hurting each other, and ourselves.

Okay, I'm going back to bed--I hope--and I will post this later in the day so I can read over it first. I feel like there is so much I could add, but it is already a long blog post and I don't want to lose anyone's interest.

Sending you all lots of love--and I really mean that.

Go change the world. Do it for Elijah.

Thank you.





Leave a comment

Name .
Message .