Recently I’ve been in many situations where I had to empathize.

Maybe that’s not the right word to use.

I know it’s not sympathize. I try not to use the two words because I’m still not perfectly clear on what they exactly mean.

Those two words remind me of a video.

This one.

Empathy is to understand someone’s pain. Sympathy is to show compassion and care about someone’s pain.

The video makes it feel like sympathy is just to try to make they feel better. ‘Silver lining’ is what the speaker calls it.

Gives it this negative connotation, even though it is suppose to be a term that has the same kind of feeling as empathy. The feeling of care, the feeling of understanding and the feeling that someone out there cares for you.

I haven’t really used the word ‘sympathy’ because of this. That video is pretty popular, and the idea of empathy vs sympathy is pretty common (with sympathy given the negative side), so it’s always hard to use that word for me as someone might take it wrongly.

Of course that’s not to say I’m not guilty of giving out comments that have the negative sympathy effect, instead of the more connecting empathy. In fact, I do it all the time. Of course looking back at the comments, it feels disgusting and dirty that I said things that could have easily been taken as ‘don’t really care’. Rarely do I read them and think they showed care and understanding. It reminded me of when I Google’d relationship problems other people came to me with. I’d follow the advice, and a lot of the time it was good but vague and general advice. The way I would try to convey it back was a very sympathetic ‘don’t worry it could be worse’ or ‘don’t worry it will get better soon’.

I also know the frustration and the annoyance of those comments. They don’t exactly help you. When my parents tell me ‘you’re so much more lucky than those starving kids in China’ (China, not Africa because I’m Chinese) it never makes me feel better about my situation. It always makes it feel worse. “You’re doing better than others, don’t be upset.” “Hey man, it could have gone much worse, you should be happy that it was only this.” They don’t (usually) help. They (usually) hurt.

Of course when I’m reflecting and looking back it’s easy to see that. A more distanced perspective helps a lot. But when I’m there typing/speaking the sentence, it’s a lot harder to see. The comments always seem to show care and compassion. They always seem to say ‘I care about you’. But they (usually) never do.

Just typing this made me realize some of the sympathetic comments I’ve made in the last few days. Considering those were some of the few sentences I communicated to the other, its not surprising they don’t feel too cared for.

It’s hard to empathize. I don’t think I have ever once consciously thought ‘I need to empathize, understand their pain, and show that I understand their pain’ (it doesn’t sound as nice as it did in my head). Maybe I just needed this realization to allow me to think this way more. Maybe it won’t help at all.

And showing empathy is a hard thing. Trying to express your care, understanding and concern is much more difficult than just having it.

Just as an example, recently a friend came to me with a problem.

I don’t know what they expect from me. To help them solve it? To just listen to them and help them release their stress? To comfort them and give them attention? It sounds really robotic and cold to say that, but that’s what I feel. I don’t know what they’re expecting so I don’t know how to properly respond. That again sounds robotic and cold. Everything having a correct response. Everything having to follow predetermined procedure. None of that humane and emotionally appealing searching and shoveling to get back on the chosen path.

But I digress.

I didn’t want they want from me. Maybe they didn’t want anything at all. That it was just a reaction to talk to me or send me the link. But I automatically replied with a sympathetic message. Or a empathetic message. I think it was sympathetic. I think it was empathetic. I don’t know. Maybe it was sympathetic. Maybe it was empathetic. Maybe they appreciated it. Maybe they didn’t.

Did I respond correctly to show care, concern and compassion? Did I do it in a good way or a bad way? Did it make them feel better or worse? I can’t tell. I don’t know. I can’t know.

I haven’t learned to either. I’ve been learning for so long, but the course still hasn’t completed.

Not being able to tell makes it much harder to choose my response to the next similar situation.

They didn’t respond back to my comments. But that was normal for them. I assumed my response was acceptable.

Maybe it wasn’t.

Maybe they aren’t willing to speak up against my treacherous actions. They let me slide by because I am a friend.

Who knows.

It is always easier to replicate something when you try to understand it yourself. Just being shown that two articles of clothing and be matched to create a nice effect never sinks in until you actually try it and learn that it creates a nice effect.

Hopefully this will let me think of empathizing properly next time this happens.

Although properly depends on the criteria given.

So will it be proper if I can’t plainly see the marking scheme?

I’ll find out, I guess.

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