Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Rescuing Sympathy

I love the meaning of this video, but I have a little bone to pick with its definitions:

I'm in complete agreement that it's disconnecting to respond to somebody's pain with problem-solving ("You want a sandwich?") or silver-lining ("At least...") and that what makes something better is connection. I mean, I think that's really deeply true and worth spreading the word about. I'm just not sure why sympathy has to be defined as the former, why can't that be called, you know, sucking, which is more what it is.

Sympathy's too good a word to be ruined like that, if you ask me. For what it's worth, sympathy to me is with + feeling. So to me, sympathy has a kind of side-by-sideness, which doesn't seem like a bad thing to me. You feel something the same as somebody else feels, that's lovely and not lonely at all. Like when you're on a good sports team, you have that side-by-side feeling; it's really one of the great feelings and one of the top reasons to play derby. There was that scrimmage where it was just me, Mah, Beaux, and Kate, so we played with the Manics and went in every third as a Fury squad and killed it, we all just knew what we all were doing at any given moment; honestly I think that night was the high point in my derby career, and I've had a bunch of them.

Empathy, on the other hand, is in + feeling: there's an I'm-going-in-ness to empathy. So I guess I can see why she assigned these terms as she did. Sympathy is often a happy coincidence, but maybe more often than not doesn't happen like that. Enter empathy, you don't feel something the same as somebody else so you enter what they feel or you take what they feel into yourself. I do think that's a higher order thing than coincidentally already feeling what that person feels, I'll give you that. Maybe you access something in yourself that did feel the same at a different point, but maybe you never felt that at any point and access it anyway.

Big ups for empathy, for sure. Big ups for Brene Brown, I love Brene Brown. But a hand up for sympathy, too. We can use all the good feeling that we can get.