Saturday, February 1, 2020

From Sympathy to Empathy

“Pain has taught me empathy,” a friend said.

“It will definitely do that,” I replied.

That brief exchange brought to mind this old saying:  “Never criticize a man until you’ve walked a mile in his moccasins.” After reflecting on it, I paraphrased it this way: "Never dismiss or make light of another person's pain until you've suffered as he has."

We can never be in another person’s situation, of course, but once we’ve been in a similar one we understand far better what they’re going through and why they feel and act the way they do. 

For example, my friend, who is suffering from back pain, had no prior personal experience with excruciating and unrelenting pain. Being a caring and compassionate person, he'd felt sympathy for those who suffered from back pain. But now that he’s experiencing not only excruciating pain but also the desperation to find relief from it, he feels empathy for anyone who's suffering.

The more empathy we have for others, the greater will be our desire to help them. If we’ve been in a similar situation, we know how much receiving comfort meant to us. And since we want fellow sufferers to be comforted, too, we gladly tell them about who or what helped us in our time of need.

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