I sympathize with anyone who experiences the loss of a loved one because I have experienced grief myself. To sympathize with the pain of another is to join a community of feeling. When I offer condolences, I hope that the person is comforted in knowing that they are not alone. I know that when my mother passed away a couple of year ago, I was comforted by the many expressions of sympathy I received from friends.
The emotions of sympathy and empathy are often confused. When we sympathize, we share the feelings of another person. We feel what they are feeling, whether it is grief or disappointment or frustration because we have had similar emotional experiences. When we empathize with another person, we understand or relate to their feelings because we can imagine what it would be like to be in their shoes.
There is a fine line between sympathy and empathy. For example, I will never know what it is like to lose a child because I don’t have children. I can only imagine how painful and heart-wrenching it is. Having experienced grief myself, I can imagine the feeling of loss, but I can’t fully feel what a mother feels in losing her child.
Even though empathy is not based on shared experience, I treasure the ability to consider things from another person’s point of view. You never really understand a person unless you can empathize with them. Empathy makes us more compassionate, more humble, more helpful. There, but for the grace of God, go I.
You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view . . . until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.
To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee