Pity: “I look down at you. Your pain is your problem.”
Sympathy: “I feel sorry for you (and I’m glad your pain isn’t mine).”
Empathy: “That sounds tough. I relate. I can understand why that would make you feel that way, or even, I don't know what that situation would feel like but I understand the feeling of shame/grief/disempowerment/stress - tell me more (I stand with and by you). Your pain is my pain.”
Compassion: “I relate but I won’t take your feelings on as mine. I will logically understand and I will come from a place of love and hope. I may cry for you but I will also believe you can change and things can improve. I will empathise with your pain but I’ll also let you be responsible for your feelings and I will stay responsible for mine.”
Pity and sympathy are condescending. They lack understanding and love.
Empathy and compassion are based on a desire to understand.
None of these are innate (meaning, you’re not born with those abilities – because they are learned skills, not natural emotions).
As they are learned that also means that it’s never too late to gain these skills if you don’t already have them.
You don't have to have walked in someone else's shoes to relate. We've all felt shame, guilt, sadness, grief, disappointment, stress, anger... We relate to that, human to human. It's not a competition. It’s about kindness.
But, empathy taps into the pain region of our brains and so, though a beautiful skill and sentiment, it can cause fatigue and exhaustion. It will feel validating to the other but not necessarily inspire growth and or help either of you move forward.
Compassion taps into a place of hope and happiness. It relies on empathy but doesn’t get stuck in that space, and is thus kinder towards yourself and others.
Empathy is often a trauma response, born from the need to read any given situation and know everyone’s feelings to avoid conflict or pain. We learn to become attuned to others – not out of love but out of fear. Empathy can blind you to justice. Great internal turmoil and unresolved pain can lead to great empathy. But that’s not necessarily a good thing as great empathy can also lead to a disregard for your own needs or to reading a situation inaccurately.
Empathy is driven by your ability to personally relate.
Empathy is driven by relatable pain.
Compassion doesn’t compromise your rights or steal from your emotional reserve. Compassion doesn’t judge and thus makes it easier to make an informed decision. Compassion is driven by your ability to be kind towards yourself so that you may be kind towards others. Compassion can hold someone else’s pain while also respecting your right to yours, without compromising either.
You do not have to accept someone’s actions to be compassionate.
You do not have to agree with someone’s behaviour to have compassion.
You do not have to understand someone’s perspective or feelings to offer compassion.
Compassion is driven by a want to understand with curious open-mindedness.
Compassion is driven by love.
How do you relate to an addict?
How do you relate to your crying child?
How do you relate to your angry partner?
How do you relate to a sexist, racist president?
How do you relate to yourself?
How do you relate to a criminal?
How do you choose to relate?
And what does it say about you rather than them?
What's the story you tell yourself, and is it helpful or hindering?
But remember - it's your life, your choice!
After all, this is the Manual of YOU!
Until next time, take care, stay safe - and sane - and make kind choices!
#CultureOfImperfection #GenerousContribution #RadicalKindness #EthicalLiving #ConnectingCommunities #ReframingNarratives #TheManualOfYou
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