Envisioning Empathy: Why you Should Act out of Empathy Rather than Sympathy

Have you ever thought about the difference between sympathy and empathy? By definition, sympathy is about feeling pity and sorrow for someone’s circumstances. To go just a bit further, empathy is about understanding and sharing the emotions of those circumstances with a person. When they are placed next to one another like this, it’s fairly easy to discern that empathy makes up for the emotion and genuine care that sympathy lacks. In this way, I believe that we should always make the conscious decision to act with empathy rather than sympathy. 

Why do I care whether people are deciding to be empathetic or sympathetic humans you may ask? To tell you the truth, it’s something that I would love to work on myself and writing about it is a great form of accountability because it demands research and understanding on my end. There is also no circumstance where more people acting empathetically is bad. It is so easy to go through the motions of sympathy for someone when our minds are preoccupied with our own problems, but doing this is wildly unhelpful for all parties involved. The beautiful thing about true and genuine empathy is that your care can really help a friend while simultaneously improving your own emotional intelligence, healing, and ability to look within. 

Choosing to practice empathy more frequently will have loads of positive repercussions. Having empathy automatically boosts your emotional intelligence because it helps you to better recognize the feelings of those around you, obvious or not. This can offer us more patience, insight, and problem-solving abilities. In doing this, it is so important to take time to use this new knowledge to reflect upon our own lives- never forgetting to water our own plants. 

Try to put yourself in somebody else’s shoes. While I can guarantee this post is not the first place you’ve heard this phrase, it is a great rule of thumb and is beyond tried and true so I figured we could all use the reminder! Seriously though, just being conscious of the fact that we are all fighting our own unique battles and handling things the best we can is so important. Understanding the feelings of the people around you can subsequently help you understand your own needs and emotions. Another positive to being empathetic is that your relationships will strengthen, and you will be able to learn more about various life experiences in our vast world which I always believe to be interesting.  

To better help all of us to be more empathetic people, I will leave a few easy ways to start! 

  1. Focus on listening but also share when it’s appropriate 
  1. Be curious! Spark conversation with those around you…even those people who you see all the time in your everyday life but have never spoken to! 
  1. Give a friend a call just because  
  1. Try to make your greetings more meaningful. When you say “Hi, how are you” to someone, make sure they know that you are genuinely asking. 
  1. Notice body language cues 
  1. Look within and examine biases or judgements that may be restraining your empathy 
  1. Allow yourself to be vulnerable 

Where sympathy may be allowing a friend to confide in you after they have expressed their disposition, empathy is noticing that something is wrong and inviting your friend to talk with you while you actively listen to understand what’s going on. With hopes for an empathetic world, I ask that we all do our best to act out of empathy rather than sympathy. So, check up on your friends and family, it could make all the difference 🙂 

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