How to Grow: Empathy vs Sympathy

Not long ago we ran across a fantastic short video on the power of sympathy by Brené Brown. Brown is a research professor, scholar, and academic who is changing the way we think about who we are and what we want to grow toward. Currently, Dr. Brown is appearing on Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday series. Studying the topic of vulnerability is Dr. Brown’s specialty as seen in this Lifeclass titled “The Gifts of Imperfection”, but much of what we can learn from her centers on how we respond to people in our lives.

I am, personally speaking, quite the Word Nerd. So when I saw this video titled “The Power of Empathy” I was curious and glad to find that Dr. Brown was discussing the powerful difference between the two words. Take a look:

As human beings, our ability to empathize with another person is paramount to our ability to connect. Isn’t that what most of us want? When we share our pain and suffering with another it’s safe to say we don’t always need sympathy but rather desire what fuels our connection in the use of empathy. 

Dr. Brown describes the work of nursing scholar, Theresa Wiseman, who studied 4 qualities of empathy:

1. Perspective taking and recognizing their perspective as truth.

2. Staying out of judgment.

3. Recognizing emotion in other people.

4. Communicating emotion with people.

So, how do you grow? Part of the answer lies in Brown’s short video above which I implore you to view if you haven’t already. For many people, it’s about discerning the difference between empathy and sympathy and then putting into practice whichever is the appropriate reaction. Sharing our suffering with others requires incredible vulnerability on the part of the sharer, but our response becomes what ultimately defines us in the connecting process.

You can sign up for Brené Brown’s 6-week e-course, The Gifts of Imperfections, here. Her TED Talk on vulnerability can be seen here.

Which will you practice today?

Screenshot courtesy of Sam Moesser.

5 thoughts on “How to Grow: Empathy vs Sympathy

  1. Excellent explanation of the difference between the two words, and a powerful argument for cultivating empathy in ourselves and our children!

  2. Love this.

    Within the children’s and young adult writing community there is a respect and understanding that we have an incredible opportunity to help foster empathy in the hearts and minds of our young readers. Empathy – the ability to see the world from another’s point of view is an integral ingredient in fostering compassion for others.

  3. I’m so glad to see Brené Brown in this forum. She’s one of my inspirations of late. Her TED talk on vulnerability (linked above) is a must watch. And if the talk resonates with you at all, reading her book “Daring Greatly” is a must read!

    Here’s to wholehearted living!

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