The World Needs More Compassion, Not Empathy

This being Christmas week 2021, I thought that I would be writing a short message of best wishes for a wonderful, safe and happy holiday to all of my readers, friends and family.

And then something happened on my way to the keyboard.

I read a wonderful article in the Globe and Mail newspaper this morning.  Scott Stirrett wrote an opinion piece entitled ‘The World Needs More Compassion, Not Empathy’.  

Unfortunately, the full article requires a subscription – https://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/article-the-world-needs-more-compassion-not-empathy/

But…

In it, he clearly defines the difference between compassion and empathy and then makes his point very clearly.

Empathy is trying to understand what another person is going through and putting yourself ‘in their shoes… stepping into someone’s mind to experience their feelings’.

Compassion is when those feelings and thoughts include the desire to help. In practical terms, he goes on to say, an empathetic response to your friend getting into a car accident is to visualize what it feels like for them, whereas a compassionate response is about asking your friend how they are feeling and how you can be of support.

To be empathetic is to say ‘I understand what you’ve been going through. I’ve been there’. To be compassionate is to say, ‘I can understand your distress and want to help’.

In this holiday season, be safe and happy, but more than anything, be compassionate to our friends, our families and to those in our circle that need our help the most.  And they are out there.

Best wishes

David

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2 thoughts on “The World Needs More Compassion, Not Empathy”

  1. Thanks for the thought-provoking post!
    I’m thinking it’s a false dichotomy to put these two important things in opposition to each other. Unless the other person is asking for something (“Where’s the restroom!?!”), I see no route to effective compassion that doesn’t start with empathy. The compassionate statement above began with “I can understand your distress” which is an example of empathy – perspective-taking.
    In my experience, empathy meets a core relational need people have: to be understood, which is often expressed as being heard, seen, and respected. If we do not go there first, people are often still wondering if we have their best interests at heart. And if we skip into action-oriented discussion, it can feel like we’re trying to fix them or dole out advice.
    I have numerous examples where I have used empathetic skills and seen that it addressed the core question or issue for the other person. And there are other cases where it opened the door to another conversation, such as how I could help in a compassionate way.

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