Essay on Empathy
by Nguyen Minh Hien
People are very busy these days to care about their careers and hobbies. There is no time left to be aware of other’s trouble, to be sensitive to other’s unhappy feelings, and to actually help others to solve their problems. Through this definition essay, I would like to convey a message to others that the empathy to other’s concerns, feelings, troubles in life is a good thing to learn.
These days people seem to have a lot of things to care about. Kids care about which computer games they are going to play, which programs on TV they are going to see, and which grades they are going to get at school. College students care about how they are going to pass twenty-credit courses while still enjoying life, which style of jeans they are going to buy, and who they are going to date. "White-collar" people care about whether the stock market is going to crash on another black Monday, when their next promotions is happening, where their summer holidays are going to be. People all busily care about big things, including their careers, their money, and their hobbies. You and me are in the same cycle, too. Have we ever had time to care about other’s feelings when they are falling down after their broken marriages? Have we ever taken time to feel sympathy and to help disabled and poor people who are hungry and jobless? Have we ever had time to think of old people who were sent to nursing homes and only remembered by their family once in a year? I do hope many of us will say "Yes". I am not surprised though if many of us may admit that we don’t have time for that kind of "luxurious" feeling. In the century of Information Technology, of the Internet and robots, of the stock market, we rush to develop our minds and chase our success. Oftentimes we neglect to develop our empathy. The empathy which is defined to be the action of understanding, being aware of , being sensitive to other's feelings, thoughts and experiences, is very important not only to ourselves, but also to our whole society.
The big difference between the word "empathy" and its synonym "awareness" is that the sympathy is incorporated into the meaning of the word "empathy". You may be aware that your friend is feeling lonely, that your colleague is getting a divorce, that your classmate is struggling with Mathematics. You simply keep those facts in rough forms as they are. You are too busy to spend an afternoon with your lonely friend watching movies together. You have more important things to do than just to share a cup of coffee and listen to your colleague's endless and nonsense troubles in marriage. Who can say you lack awareness? No, you are very well-informed. However, if you don't share with others their feelings, don't put yourself into the other's shoes, don't even show them how much you care about their troubles, you lack empathy. The empathy is one step higher in term of emotional development compared to awareness. Take for example, if you are depressed about your bad results in study, you need your classmates to show their sympathy and encouragement to you. You need them to understand which reasons may lead to your bad grades. You need them to suggest other approaches in study that you may want to try. You probably don’t want to see others acting as if they don’t care. You are even hurt if others consider your IQ is as high as Forest Gump's. Above all, you need to see others empathize with your troubles.
Empathic people are those who express their feelings toward your problems with sympathy and understanding. When I first came to the United States one year ago, I suffered a lot from being homesick. I used to easily get stressed and cry secretly. I didn’t have any friends or any relatives in the United States. Then, I met an American woman in my multimedia class. She used to take me to the UWM Union or a fast food restaurant after our classes. We bought cups of tea or ice cream, spent time talking to each other about everything, including our studies, our lives, our hobbies. She noticed that I felt isolated in the new environment. She then took me to see some historical places in Milwaukee such as Old World Wisconsin and the Holy Hill. She knew that I was homesick and felt lonely. She then invited me to visit her family. Last Christmas, I spent my holidays at her house with her husband and children. We sang "Jingle Bells" and opened Christmas gifts together. She was trying to make me feel at home and feel being taken care of. I am thankful to have a friend like her who is full of empathy and tenderness.
Unlike empathic people who care about others and try to put themselves in other's situations, people without any empathy always put themselves in the first place. The husband of my older friend is an typical example. He was very successful young businessman in our country. They lived a big house while others still lived in tiny apartments. They had a car while almost of us still rode bicycles. One year after getting married, they had a very cute son. Everything seemed too good to be true. However, my friend didn't seem to be totally happy as I thought. I sometimes noticed that she was very sad and depressed. Other times I happened to see her crying secretly. It happened once in a while and became more frequently afterward. "What's wrong with you?", I asked. She pretended not to hear my question at first. Then, she seemed to be unable to keep everything a mystery any longer. She cried loudly and told me the story of her marriage. Her husband was a workaholic. He always put his work and himself in the first place. That was good if he didn’t have a wife and a son to take care of. He never remembered her birthday, his son's birthday or any other important events in their lives when he was expected to show his wife and son how much he cared of them. He never shared the housework even knowing that his wife needed to work as well. He never picked his son up from school, asked the little boy about his study, or played with him. He still went out for business dinners while both of his wife and son were seriously sick and needed to see doctors. "He seriously lack of empathy", my friend sadly concluded. They got divorced last year. "It would be miserable if you have to spend the rest of your life with an insensitive person who doesn’t care about your emotions and problems", my friend keeps telling me after her unhappy marriage ended.
Oftentimes the importance of empathy is often underestimated. It should be taught in primary school by teachers in cooperation with the pupils' families. Kids are encouraged to learn new computer programs, to solve tough mathematics problems, and to play new music instruments. They should be encouraged to become empathic people who empathize with problems of the family members, their classmates, and their acquaintances. By doing so, we would make our lives much more meaningful and joyful. On the contrary, insensitivity and indifference to others’ agony and suffering will end up being in a robot world where people live without any feeling. I believe we all have a bit of empathy in our hearts. Please let it show!
Writers oftentimes confuse the two words empathy and sympathy. They are usually used in similar contexts, a death in the family, a job loss, a robbery, etc., but they aren’t the same and have different meanings. So in order to keep our writing precise, we should be careful not to mix either of them up.
Today I want to illustrate the differences between empathy vs. sympathy, showcase their uses in a sentence, and give you some tips to keep track of them. After reading this post, you shouldn’t have any more trouble with these two words.
When to Use Empathy
Empathy is a noun and is defined as, “the ability to identify with or understand another’s situation or feelings.” For example,
- I have empathy for those families who lost their house in the storm. A tornado once destroyed my house.
- Having been late to work many times himself, the boss had empathy on the employee who was late.
Empathy is putting yourself in someone else’s shoes to understand that person’s situation. In the example above, the boss, having been late to work himself, had empathy for and understood why the employee was late for work.
Empathy is the newer of the two words, with its first use recorded in 1895. Sympathy, on the other hand, has a first recorded use in the late 1500s.
When to Use Sympathy
Sympathy is a noun and is defined as, “a feeling of pity or sorrow for the distress of another.” For example,
- I offered my sympathy to the grieving mother.
- Their sympathy for the victims led them to donate.
So you can clearly see the difference between the two words. Sympathy is a compassion and sorrow one feels for another, but empathy is more focused around personally identifying with or projecting oneself into another’s situation.
You may feel bad for the person who was just laid off from their job, but if you have never been laid off yourself, you cannot have empathy for him or her. You can feel sorry, have compassion, and give them sympathy, but you can’t have empathy for their situation.
Empathize vs. Sympathize
This same thought process underlines the two verb forms of empathy and sympathy, empathize and sympathize. Empathize denotes a stronger, more personal sense of shared feeling than does sympathize.
This doesn’t mean, however, that you cannot use sympathy or sympathize to describe “sharing or understanding the feelings of another.” The word sympathize is 300 years empathy’s senior with this meaning. You can share or even understand the pain someone is going through without going through it yourself.
Empathy, and by extension empathize, is the power of projecting one’s personality into (and so fully comprehending) the object of contemplation. It is much more personal and specific than sympathy.
To give another example, I may sympathize with the person whose house was just burglarized because I can understand how vulnerable it must make one feel, but I cannot have empathy because my house has never been robbed.
Remember the Difference
Here are two tricks to remember which of these words is which:
You can remember that sympathy deals with sorrows and feeling sorry for someone because it starts with an “S.”
Similarly, you can remember that empathy is more personal and requires you to put yourself in that person’s shoes. Shoes and empathy both have an “E” in them.
The two words sympathy vs. empathy cause a bit of confusion in people’s writing, but they have different meanings.
Empathy is more specific and personal than sympathy. It involves personally putting yourself in that persons shoes and knowing what they are going through.
Sympathy is a more general feeling or sorrow for another person’s situation.