empathy versus sympathy

“I know what it’s like down here.
And you’re not alone.”

Dr. Brené Brown, who is super awesome and did an amazing TED talk on vulnerability (which garnered her more notoriety than she was expecting), summed up the difference between sympathy and empathy in a way that is succinct and beautiful and dead. on. accurate.

Then, The Royal Society for the encouragement of the Arts took the awesomeness to the next level by animating her profound and true words with adorable woodland creatures. And a hole. And a ladder.

And it’s beautiful.

In the words of Brené (because, in my head, we’re close like that and on a first name basis): “So what is empathy? And why is it very different than sympathy? Empathy fuels connection. Sympathy drives disconnection.”

That’s some truth right there. And it just gets better.

When we choose to share our story with someone else – when we put our truth in words and ask someone else to (please) understand us – we often do so with the great and heavy fear of what their reaction may be. Will they understand? Will they care? Will this change our relationship?

Being able to respond to someone with an open heart and be with them in their moment of vulnerability, makes us vulnerable too. And that can be hard to do. But in being vulnerable, we’re allowing for a connection to be made that is based on the sincerity that comes from empathy.

We don’t want people to feel sorry for us….. we just want them to be there.

The next time someone is sharing their story with you, take a moment to recognize your response to them. It’s okay if that’s uncomfortable. In that discomfort, there can be connection. Likewise, as you are interacting with others, notice their response to you. Look to foster the relationships that nurture connection. And spread that connection to others. Yes, it requires us to be vulnerable. But in that vulnerability, we find our authentic self.


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