Sympathy, Empathy, and Compassion

Sympathy, Empathy, and Compassion

What’s the Difference between…





There are a lot of weird things about the situation we’re in. We’re scared, we’re bored, we’re anxious — and, what’s more, the whole world is right there with us. There’s never been a better time to tap into the human potential for empathysympathy, and compassion — and to learn the difference between them.

Empathy is a person’s ability to recognize and share the emotions of another. Let’s break that down: it involves 1) being able to see someone else’s situation from their perspective, and 2) feeling the same things that person is feeling. To empathize, it helps to have some first-hand knowledge of the situation; I’m more likely to empathize with someone if I’ve experienced something similar.

Sympathy is a feeling of concern for someone, often accompanied by a desire to see that person happier or in a better situation. Unlike empathy, it doesn’t involve a shared perspective or emotions — one does not feel the sufferer’s distress, but rather feels bad about the sufferer’s distress.

Compassion is the most engaged emotion of the three. It’s empathy taken a step farther; someone both shares the distress of another and has an active desire to alleviate that distress. It’s feeling as sad as your friend, and then baking them cookies to help them feel better; it’s knowing how scared your neighbor is, and dropping flowers outside their door. 

The whole world could use more empathy, sympathy, and compassion right now — so try channeling some of yours. It may help cheer you up, too!

About The Author

What’s the Difference is a newsletter created by Brette Warshaw, a consultant and writer living in New York City. She has worked with companies such as RAMONAOpenTableLIVELYFood52, and Open Society, and she was the Chief Operating Officer of the late cult food magazine Lucky Peach. She studied history and creative writing at the University of Pennsylvania, and wrote her thesis on Jell-O marketing in the Great Depression. In her spare time, she enjoys throwing dinner parties and organizing her pantry.

Visit Brette’s website!