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Compared to sympathy, empathy is difficult.
For the most part, we do make an effort to understand others. But to experience someone’s emotions, it involves a different level of emotional and social maturity.
Sympathy is a lot like a dude feeling compelled to get a girl some flowers because she appears to be a damsel in distress. And when he does, she just says “Thank you,” but underneath it’s not really what she needs or wants and it’s probably the fifth bouquet of flowers she’s received that week already. She really isn’t in distress, she’s just a playful one. She just says she appreciates the gesture and moves on with her daily life. Thus, in the end, nothing happens. The dude has fallen into the friend zone and is now forever alone…
Empathy, on the other hand, is a lot like a dude who feels and thinks what the girl is experiencing. He knows that she only, in fact, appears to be a damsel in distress and in reality doesn’t need him to solve any of her problems. He understands the act or behavior, so instead, he just plays along with her in being “distressed,” and they will eventually laugh about it when they’re finally out together, sharing whatever “distress” there is. He simply gets it, thus he gets her.
Empathy breeds connection. It is feeling someone else as if you are that someone else. It allows you to see an accurate view of what’s really going on for someone else.
It’s easier to sympathize to any cause. It’s easier to show compassion and sorrow for, and understanding of the sufferings of others. At times, it can come off as condescending. Sympathy can be parroted too.
Empathy goes a little further and it allows you to see beyond the fake smiles, distractions, fronts, and false narratives. It allows you to read emotions but more than that, to feel them too. As defined, it is putting yourself in someone else’s shoes or feeling the emotions of others as if they’re your own.
Here’s Brene Brown and she couldn’t have explained it any better: