Friday, January 29, 2010

Empathy, Sympathy, Silence

I've been having what I call issues with my work load and final semester of school. It is hard to find someone who can understand my troubles. I spoke to my mom and my husband about it, but I didn't feel better. I guess I wanted empathy, not sympathy. Plenty of people can sympathize, but few can empathize. How many young women do I know who have recently gone through a master's program in mathematics? I know one woman who recently received her master's, and a few who semi-recently received doctorates, all of whom live in Kentucky. I spoke with my one math friend yesterday and I feel a bit better.

I've been reading more blogs lately so I feel like I have been exposed to a lot of personal, touching stories about the lives of relative strangers. Many of these stories are traumatic and I know I can't relate - so I don't pretend I understand. Sometimes I try to leave encouraging comments, something relevant - I offer sympathy since I cannot offer empathy. Most of the time I feel like I might cheapen the post by leaving a comment so I don't write anything.

Which is best: Empathy, Sympathy, or Silence?

I dare to say empathy, although hoping for empathy presents a conundrum: If I have been through a tragedy, and I hope for empathy, then am I hoping others have suffered as well? Misery loves company and all that.

Which is better when empathy isn't an option: Sympathy or Silence?


  1. If you "feel" for someone, whether you can truly empathize (which is often have you had the EXACT same experience as another person?) or not, they usually appreciate a sympathetic comment. What people don't appreciate is being lectured or critcized when they're feeling vulnerable and have bared their soul, so to speak. I know I've read comments on blogs and such that are misguided at best, and sometimes downright thoughtless or mean or judgmental. That is NOT helpful. So personally, I try to be encouraging and/or sympathetic when I comment on a blog where someone is obviously lost or hurting. Why add to their pain?

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  3. Like your mom said, a sympathetic note, whether you can relate or not, tells the person that you care. Sometimes even a "Hope things get better" is better then not saying anything at all.

    It's tough to bear your soul and have no comments made by the people you're telling, whether in person or via blog.

    P.S. I made a typo and was just trying to edit it, but could only delete it! :)


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