This is a beautifully animated video acting out a well articulated section of Dr Brené Brown’s lecture on the difference between an empathetic and a sympathetic response from the RSA. The video neatly wraps up a difficult subject to pinpoint the consequences of both responses.
Empathy is the ability to place yourself in someone else’s shoes and understand relate as best as you can to how that person feels in the situation. The trait of being able to express this feeling and understanding it is the second tier of empathy. Another response to hearing another person’s problem is to express sympathy. Sympathy is the ability to express ‘culturally acceptable’ condolences to anothers plight. A lot of the time, this includes pointing out a silver lining in the situation but it’s not always a helpful thing to do.
Empathy is harder to accomplish for many reasons. We not only have to actively listen to another person’s problem without judgement but then be honest with ourselves and the the other person about our feelings as a listener. That connection builds bridges that enforce trust and understanding that are healthy and positive for both people. At a later time it may be appropriate to look for a solution. Nothing in the world makes me feel better than when trusted family or friends understand where I’m standing. It makes me feel better because it verifies where I actually stand, I frequently get lost in my life.
Next time someone opens up to you about a problem, try to listen to what they are saying. They are reaching out for help and full acknowledgement is the first step. I know its hard to willingly put yourself through more unnecessary pain but it in doing so you will both feel better. Identifying similar feeling in similar situations strengthens healthy bonds for not only the two of you but the community at whole. We all suffer at some point and by talking it out we can genuinely help each other through hardships.