1/07/2011

Sympathy vs. Empathy

Nowadays everybody uses the word "empathize."  I remember when we used to sympathize.  Now we just empathize.  We should get back to sympathizing.  The world needs more sympathy and less empathy.  Let's distinguish the two.  Empathy is paying lip-service to whatever cause or hardship without actually giving a damn or doing anything of substance to alleviate it.  Politicians and Hollywood A-holes empathize.  By contrast, Mother Theresa and Albert Schweitzer sympathized, which is to say, they didn't pose for cameras.  They climbed into the gutter and helped people climb out.  A good rule of thumb to remember the difference between empathy and sympathy:  when you're watching a movie and a guy takes a shot in the grapes and you laugh, you empathize.  If you clasp your junk and wince, you sympathize.

I can't empathize with people.  I either sympathize with them or I don't.  People either deserve sympathy, or they're morally deficient (if you felt a cringe while you read that, consider how politically correct we've become!).  For example, if somebody loses their job, I sympathize.  It could happen to anybody. It's not easy news to receive and it can temporarily cripple you financially.  However, if somebody is still unemployed 27 months later, I don't "empathize" with him, and I sure as hell don't sympathize.  I accept that you had a bad stroke of luck.  But I sure as fuck don't believe you couldn't find another job in 2 years.  Be honest with me.  Is the job market that tough?  Or do your XBox 360 and your stash of weed have a hand in it?  We'd all love to fuck off and bemoan the job market for 2 years while we blaze up and hold out for a management position, but we have bills, yo.

I sympathize with accident victims.  Some drivers draw a horrible poker hand for nothing bigger than trespassing the wrong place at the right time.  Accidents happen.  Sometimes the at-fault driver is reckless or intoxicated.  That makes it sting even worse.  I sympathize.  But other accident victims don't deserve sympathy.  They deserve contempt.  If you were trying to be the next Evil Knievel on your dirt bike, or the next George St. Pierre in the MMA octagon, or you drank a bottle of Jack and punched a hole through a door because you found pics of some other dude's dong on your girlfriend's cell phone, then you deserve whatever injury chance bequeathed on you, dipshit.  [I should disclose to the reader that I work in the emergency room every weekend.]

I sympathize with the sick and infirm.  Some of us are born with lemons for bodies.  Our bodies don't come with a 100,000-mile wrap-around warranty and you can't trade them in using Obama's Cash-for-Clunkers program.  If you're one of the poor bastards roaming the earth in a human version of the Ford Pinto, I sympathize.  God issued you a defective body.  You're blameless.  If a few of my tax dollars can ease your suffering, fine.  But, if you've eaten yourself to the size of a Dodge Minivan and you're ailing with bad knees and Type 2 diabetes, go roll yourself off a cliff.  I don't feel sorry for you.  And spare me the food-is-an-addiction speech.  Get yourself addicted to exercise and a healthful lifestyle.  You'll be surprised how quickly you become addicted to it when you can see your own pecker without the aid of a mirror.

I'm not surprised to see the word empathy supplant the word sympathy about the same time political correctness shifted into overdrive.  Political correctness forces us to stomach the unpalatable.  Tolerance and non-judgementalism are the orders of the day.  We can't sympathize with the rampant nincompoopery afflicting the masses.  So instead, we "empathize," which is to say we affect caring and withhold judgement.

I hope someday we resurrect the word -- and the practice -- of sympathy.

29 comments:

Gucci Mama said...

Standing goddamn ovation. Brilliantly, perfectly stated.

Elisabeth Black said...

Yes, I agree with Gucci. Thanks so much for pointing me to this!!!

Jeannie said...

Excellent Rant!

Lightening Bug for President!

Anonymous said...

You're a dick. And I can't empathize or sympathize with you at all.

klahanie said...

Sympathy is when someone else has had a 'broken leg' and you haven't.
Empathy is when you've also have had a broken leg...
Sorted.

Diane Laney Fitzpatrick said...

Ooh, Anonymous, simmer down, why don't you.

Not to be a nerd, but there is a difference between 'sympathize' and 'empathize.' To sympathize with someone is to feel sorry for them. To empathize with someone is to know what it's like to be him, to walk in his shoes. Lack of empathy is not being able to think about what other people are going through. So theoretically, you can sympathize without empathy, but usually when you empathize you have some sympathy. Unless you're Anonymous and then you're just a dick who no one can understand.

Anonymous said...

You are a genius. This would be a great opinion/editorial piece. I agree with everything, specially the part about being out of work for two years. Some may have to take a job they feel is below them for a period of time, but it helps pay the bills. I love reading all of your blogs!

T-Rex

SQT said...

Anonymous must be either fat or chronically unemployed. That's the conclusion I've come to-- because nothing you've said isn't true.

My husband has a friend whose brother-in-law has been unemployed for a while (some months at least) and turned down a $50k job because he figured it was more fun to collect unemployment and surf. That just pisses me off.

Budd said...

I sympathize with you for putting up with all the empathizing.

Jennifer Fabulous said...

Well said. I enjoy your rants. I most often agree. :)

Heather said...

"When you can see your own pecker without the aid of a mirror."
I think that is funny and I don't even have a pecker.
I think I have been using these words wrong. And that is bad. I have an English degree. I a going to have to look into my usage.

(And Budd's comment - humorous)

Kelley said...

Send this to every newspaper in the land! Good stuff here, LBB. Gooooooood stuff.

Deborah said...

I repeated the pecker observation to my husband just now.

And we're off to the gym . . .

Don't you LOVE the ripples one anony comment can create? Don't give them the power people!

Yes, LBB for pres.

LadyHAHA said...

My neck almost fell off because I was nodding in agreement so vigorously while reading your post. I think I might have pulled something ....

LadyHAHA said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
LadyHAHA said...

Oops I posted 2 versions of the same comment. Sorry. Just pick your favorite and let's not speak of it again

Evil Twin's Wife said...

You are once again right on target. We shouldn't reward people for being lazy and feeling entitled. They don't deserve me feeling sorry for their pathetic lack of motivation.

heartinhand said...

I would love to hear more stories from the ER!

"Rampant nincompoopery afflicting the masses" I'm going to use that in a sentence today if it kills me.

Philosophia said...

I think this post is wonderfully perfect. You always get right to heart of a problem and never sugar-coat anything, which is really admirable. I agree, we need more sympathy than empathy - take some action to correct the faults in our society. And agreed, there's a fine line between sympathizing for someone who cannot help their circumstances, versus, someone who has chosen to remain in unfavourable conditions when they could be doing better.

And funny you mention the whole not being able to see your pecker part, I mean I've always wondered if both people haven't seen their own genitalia in a long time, how do they go about procreating? It's been difficult to visualize. ;p

Ashley said...

Very nice! I agree with Diane. I feel it is ok to empathize and sympathize. I honestly thought the definitions were reversed though. I think people need to have compassion, and I also feel people need to stop living off of the system.

Penny Lane said...

Well I think it has something to do with the world trying to tear the emotions out of people so we all become controllable robots... but that is just my opinion.

I mean I don't really know where empathy came from. I used to never hear it and now I hear it every where. " Like oh look, he is so empathetic" yeah you are pathetic. I don't understand, what that means.

Impulsive Addict said...

Those other girls at the RHOK were completely wrong about you being "not so smart". This is brilliant! (I make stuff up a lot...just so you know.)

Hey...did you get my email about how to fix your no-comment blogger thingy? I think my blogger friend MiMi figured it out! You are both pretty smart in my books tonight!

CHEERS!

Christopher said...

Some interesting points. I don't really agree with all of it but it definitely provided some food for thought.

I also find it a bit ironic that so many people empathize with your point of view.

Peter said...

How long have you been doing Community Service at the ER???

christopherc said...

I've always enjoyed your rants and typically agree with most of your points.

Summer said...

I think empathy is a good defense for people deemed insensitive (such as myself)- because if you don't sympathize they assume you can't/don't understand. Empathy is the middle ground which says "hey there dumbass, I get it. I just don't feel bad for you."

Couldn't agree more with the the fact that the new "PC" is intrusive. My whole blog is dedicated to that.

I'll help resurrect the use of the word sympathy, but I foresee it happening in the context of my unfortunate inability to extend it.

p.s. agreed...anonymous is definitely a fatass.

KittyCat said...

I so totally agree.
I dont have a problem sympathizing with someone who deserves it.

Thanks for the great read today.

Sandra said...

I don't usually read the comments, but these caught my eye. You certainly ruffled feathers! You know what that means right?...you is getting famous!

Denise said...

I love this, there is nothing wrong with people telling you like it is. Where did honesty go? Why is hurting someones feelings by telling them the truth something more feared than letting them do a stupid thing over and over again while you watch from the corner? Wrong-o buddy... take the hint, and grow a pair.