So what is empathy? And why is it very different than sympathy?
Empathy fuels connection. Sympathy drives disconnection. Empathy is very interesting.
Teresa Wiseman is a nursing scholar, who studied professions—very diverse professions where empathy is relevant, and came up with four qualities of empathy: Perspective taking (the ability to take the perspective of another person, or recognize their perspectives as their truth), staying out of judgment (not easy when you enjoy this as much as most of us do), recognizing emotion of another people, and then communicating that.
Empathy is feeling with people. And to me, I always think of empathy as this kind of sacred space when someone's kind of in a deep hole, and they shout out from the bottom and they say, "I'm stuck. It's dark. I'm overwhelmed." And then we look and we say, "Hey," and climb down, "I know what it's like down here, and you're not alone."
Sympathy is, "Woo! It's bad, ahuh? Now, you want a sandwich?"
Empathy is a choice. And it's a vulnerable choice because in order to connect with you, I have to connect with something in myself that knows that feeling. Rarely, if ever, does an empathic response begin with "at least."
I had a...yeah, and we do it all the time, because, you know what, someone just shares something with us that's incredibly painful, and we're trying to silver lining that. I don't think that's a verb, but I'm using it as one.
We're trying to put this silver lining around it, so "I had a miscarriage."
"At least, you know you can get pregnant."
"I think my marriage is falling apart."
"At least, you have a marriage."
"John's getting kicked out of school."
"At least, Sarah, he's an A-student."
But one of the things we do sometimes in the face of very difficult conversations is we try to make things better.
If I share something with you that's very difficult, I'd rather you say, "I don't even know what to say right now. I'm just so glad you told me," because the truth is rarely can a response make something better. What makes something better is connection.