The Distinction: The action of sympathy has always made me think of lazy caring. I am not saying that sympathy isn’t caring, we are all sympathetic to others in our lives or the world. But empathy is what truly changes people. In business, they call this emotional intelligence, being able to sense and feel how others are feeling, being compassionate as a person. Compassion and empathy go hand in hand. Compassion and sympathy are maybe giving each other a high five very briefly. Empathy brings along vulnerability and kindness and strength, all of which are definitely not always easy to express. Sympathy also brings along caring and kindness but lags a few steps behind empathy. It’s like the saying walk a day in my shoes. Empathy is wearing the person’s shoes, sympathy is looking at the shoes and saying they are nice.
The News: When I was about ten years old, I got the news that no one ever wants to hear. My dad was sick. Being young I did not know the full extent of the situation but knew that this situation would bring a lot of apologies and sad eyes from others when they learned of the news. I tried to hide the fact that he was sick from others because hearing people’s responses only really made things seem more real to me. With the delicate situation that was going on in my life, boundaries were key. People had to know the right thing to say, which was impossible because I didn’t even know what I wanted them to say. I realized it was no one else’s job to help me feel better and decided to handle the emotions in the best way I thought I could, holding them in.
Kind Hearted: I was so used to the typical responses when someone learned about my dad and trust me, I appreciated every single one of them. I knew people cared. But it took one person to show me true compassion to make me realize that there was a difference between empathy and sympathy. It was my 5th grade teacher who pulled me aside and let me open up. She knew when to listen and knew all the right things to say. She didn’t tell me she was sorry or look at me with those sad eyes, she told me her own story. Hearing her story made me see that she really did truly care and that she not only heard what I was feeling, she felt my feelings. Talking to her was like getting to the top of a mountain, so relieving and new. Her compassion allowed me to have a confidant who was ready to talk and listen, but knew that it was not something I wanted mentioned or thought of when she looked at me in class.
Forever Thankful: As my dad began to get better, I looked back on his bad days. I realized that I had learned so much during those few years and changed as a person. I learned that having a lot of people in your life who care is great and is incredibly helpful, but having that one person who can feel with you is what makes all the difference. I learned that good outcomes come out of bad situations no matter the odds. No one wants to deal with the hard stuff in life, but it takes one brave soul to take on that battle. When I think back to my 5th grade teacher, I have so much appreciation for her kind heart. She was that brave soul for me. It takes a truly brave person to open up themselves to your pain and feel what you are feeling.