People often get the difference between empathy and sympathy confused. They think that the differences are negligible, and so it can be difficult to differentiate between the two. The distinctions between sympathy and empathy are quite subtle, but that doesn’t make them unimportant. While it is possible to have both sympathy and empathy in a variety of situations, living with empathy is often an important part of making sure that you can deal with your fellow human beings in a meaningful way that facilitates smooth interactions and that can foster a sense of camaraderie and understanding between you and your fellow man.
The main difference between empathy and sympathy is that empathy has to do with an intellectual understanding of a situation or a person, and sympathy has to do with feeling what others feel. It has often been explained that you empathize with your mind, and you sympathize with your heart. While sympathy is certainly a positive character trait to possess, empathy is crucial to being able to function in society. If you can’t empathize with others, then you won’t be able to interact or work with them very well. Fortunately, living with empathy can be built up and improved.
Empathy is how you can put yourself in someone else’s shoes. It can help you to understand others better, and to see things from their point of view. Without empathy, customer service would be impossible. Without empathy, no one would ever think to create products that make our lives easier or more convenient. Living with empathy is important, not only so that we can live in harmony with those around us, but even so that we can do business with one another. You can’t provide a service that others need if you can’t bring yourself to imagine what kind of service they might require.
It’s a good practice to try to empathize with people from all different walks of life. As you pass someone on the street, you can try to imagine where they’re headed, or what their state of mind might be. It can be equally helpful to imagine the life of the high-powered business attorney or the life of the homeless person, panhandling on the street. Living with empathy means trying to understand people who are different from you. It can make your day-to-day interactions with others easier, and can even help to generate sympathy for different people in different situations.
Living with empathy isn’t easy. Most people are somewhat selfish or self-centered by nature, so it can take some practice to start thinking outside of the box of your own experience to try and imagine what it must be like for those who are living lives that are different from yours. By looking deep inside and really taking the time to consider how you would react in different circumstances, you can learn a lot, not only about others, but even about yourself. Cultivating empathy isn’t always easy, but it’s an important part of the human experience.