When we talk about connecting with people, it basically means exchanging information or more simply, sharing things. But it isn’t as plain and simple. It isn’t machines exchanging data but people, and with that comes feelings, emotions, circumstances, relations, biases and worst of all judgement.
All of this depends on who is standing in front of you. Based on this your manner of speaking and the topics of discussion vary, after all not everyone shares a liking for the same things you follow. All this is a breeze when it comes to your normal day passing encounters usually involving just greeting or small talks, at times cut even smaller.
Now, the situations mostly dreaded, are the unexpected ones involving bad news, be it someone’s demise, academic struggle, relationship issues, or anything similar, requiring caution of speech and preparedness of manner.
In such cases, people obviously try their best to express concern and share in the suffering of the unfortunate. You either sympathize or empathize, but do you know the extremities both of them can convey. You might want to express how much you too have been affected by the situation at hand, but you might end up sounding totally snobbish.
The basic difference is, when you have been in a similar situation, as that of the victim, you access that part of you which shares the similar feelings, that is empathy. And sympathy is the compassion you show or try to show when you haven’t been in a similar situation. For example,
Empathy requires you to understand and feel what the other person does, which isn’t likely unless you share a similar experience. To empathize is to project oneself in their position and feel everything they are feeling at that instant. Sympathizing is feeling sorry for the other person without completely understanding their situation or agreeing with their beliefs etc.
1. Meg’s cat died – You Sympathize
2. Your cat died along with Meg’s – You Empathize
This doesn’t necessarily mean you cannot empathize in the first case, you can feel the same way, even if you haven’t been in the exact same situation. American Professor Brené Brown makes a clear distinction between the both, with some useful suggestions on how not to disconnect with people by sympathizing. The following is an animated clip of Brené Brown’s speech at The RSA (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce) conference.
Here is the original speech