We hear a lot about compassion lately and empathy.
A mistake that some people make is they equate empathy with sympathy.
In this video by speaker Dr. Brené Brown and sponsored by the Renaissance Society of Amercian, Dr. Brown explains the difference and helps us to understand why expressions of empathy are always the better choice.
The Four Qualities of Empathy
Dr. Brown explains that while empathy fuels connection, sympathy drives disconnection.
She also explains nursing scholar Teresa Wiseman’s four qualities of empathy
- Take a perspective of another person.
- Staying out of judgment.
- Recognizing emotion in other people.
- Communicating the emotion you detect in others.
Are Your Words Sympathetic or Empathetic?
As she explains in the video, if a friend were feeling trapped in a sorrowful moment, the empathetic response would be to say, “I know what it’s like and you’re not alone.”
Or you could say, “I’m so glad you told me.”
Empathy is communicating with people. To be empathic requires us to go to a vulnerable place within ourselves and to connect with another friend from that place.
Another empathetic response might be, “I don’t know what to say right now.”
Expressing sympathy is easier.
Sympathetic responses start with the words “at least.” For example:
If a friend were to express sorrow about a miscarriage, a sympathetic person might say, “At least you already have a child.”
If a friend were to express concern about problems in her or his marriage, a sympathetic friend might say, “At least you’re married.”
As you can see, those responses aren’t helpful at all. And they do nothing to ease the pain of the person who is suffering.
… I know what it’s like and you’re not alone.
Empathy is a vulnerable choice. To connect with you, I have to go to a vulnerable place in myself and feel that place where you’re at.
Sympathy begins with “at least” … “at least you don’t have cancer” … at least you know you can get pregnant
So if a friend is going through a tough time, remember that the deeper the connection you make with that friend in her time of need will outweigh any words you use.
Empathy and Drawing
To enable your children to grow up to become empathic adults, encourage them to draw.
As you may recall, last week I explained why art is critical to your child’s development.
This week, I encourage you to work with your children or students on drawing marine animals, especially jellyfish.
When children are encouraged to draw creatures of the earth and the sea, they will begin to appreciate them more, want to learn about them more, and one day, act in ways that will protect them.
One of the best ways for your children to learn to express empathy is by encouraging them to draw animals and creatures of the sea. In this manner their appreciation of these creatures will grow, their knowledge will expand, and their ability to feel compassion and empathy will soar.
To help your children learn more about jellyfish, visit my previous post The Amazing World Of Jellyfish The Amazing World Of Jellyfish.and visit my pinboard of colorful jellyfish on Pinterest.
Elizabeth B. Martin is the author and illustrator of six picture books for children. You can view her books here for free.