Empathy has always been a driving force in the type of work I do. I believe it's the foundation of communication. This beautifully animated short, from a talk social work scholar Dr. Brené Brown gave called "The Power of Vulnerability," explains the difference between empathy and sympathy. I don't know if I agree with everything Dr. Brown states in her argument because I'm still working through what defines empathy myself, but it definitely gave me some food for thought.
Is empathy better than sympathy? Is it always called for in a situation where you're trying to connect with someone? Should we always strive for empathy or are there instances where empathy would be harmful? When Brown uses examples to highlight the differences between empathy and sympathy, her hypothetical situations include situations I have never been in. Would it be proper to empathize with someone then? Would that be helpful to someone? Further, her example of an empathetic response: "I don't know what to say, I'm glad you told me" I think misses the mark of what empathy really is. That response sounds more like sympathy to me.
That all said, it's important to think through these types of terms--terms that are often thrown around without much weight to them--not simply to set exact parameters to them but to understand what our society means when we use them. So I leave you with the question: What is empathy--to you?