The difference between sympathy and empathy

A friend came up to me in that milling around bit after church when you half catch up with lots of people you see once a week and told me something really huge and terrible about her past.

I said, “Do you want a sandwich?”, because I didn’t know what to say.

She laughed. She and I had been at the same church event the day before, and my awful remark kind of made sense in light of a video clip that had been shown. I am putting the link at the bottom and I really hope you’ll take the 2 minutes 54 seconds needed to watch the whole thing.

What the heck do you say when people tell you sad, hard things? Our speaker was sharing with raw openness about her childlessness, and she had some chilling examples of what not to say. “At least you get to sleep in at the weekend.” “Have you thought about IVF?” “My friend had a baby at 55.” “Now you can go and be a missionary.”

It is a very human impulse to want to fix or minimise or retreat from other people’s pain. I have got some stories of people trying- sincerely- and failing to find the right words to pull me out of my depression. I am not judging them for wanting to help.

But as the wonderful Brene Brown says in this short film, very rarely do words make a difference. What makes a difference is connection. What makes a difference is climbing down into the black hole to be with your friend, allowing yourself close enough to feel some of the same things, and perhaps lighting a few candles around the place.

Now follow the link: