Wednesday, November 19, 2008
Sympathy or empathy
In the course I have just finished on developmental psychology, there was a discussion about sympathy and empathy. The text book and lectures were at odds about which was more useful in a societal construct. The text book suggested that sympathy was better, producing discomfort upon hearing of injustice, while empathy caused the feeling of distress, which immobilised the person. The lectures sort of implied the reverse. My instinctive definition agrees with the text book. Sympathy is feeling because, empathy is feeling as if. I suspect I am hopelessly empathic. I read the last chapter on death, and cried and cried. I heard the news today about the man who died trying (and failing) to save his two sons from drowning, and I cried. I don't think I am very sympathetic. If I can't put me there, I'm not so useful. But if I can put me there - I am way too good at that. So I suck at being helpful, which is definitely not what I want. I don't know how to scale down the empathic response to be able to cope with the sympathetic. If anyone has any good suggestions, I'm all ears.