Empathy Connects, Sympathy Disconnects

December 13, 2013 5 Comments

“Rarely can a response make something better. What makes something better is connection.”

– Brene Brown


  • Cynthia Silva Parker says:

    Thanks for this. Just want to make a connection between empathy, sympathy and equity. People are much less willing to share responsibility for the well-being of people for whom they have no empathy or connection. It’s much easier to “otherize” and convince oneself that it’s “their problem,” not mine or ours to solve. And, I’ve learned from the mediation literature about “moral exclusion.” When people lack empathy with other people or people groups, it’s easy to exclude them from the group of humans who deserve decent treatment. So, there’s an important tie between building empathy and building a movement for equity and justice.

  • GibranX says:

    Heart stirs, wanting to apply rigor to this practice – it is transformational

  • Cynthia Silva Parker says:

    Was thinking about Monday’s post. Thanks for the idea!

  • From an blog article of mine, mistaking sympathy with apathy:

    “Dr. Brené Brown Brown at the U of Houston fails miserably in her assertion, “Empathy fuels connection,” she says, “Sympathy drives disconnection.” Her horrifying mistake is that she sees sympathy as the opposite of sympathy, when Apathy is actually the opposite of both; again, mistaking apathy and indifference with sympathy. The importance of true empathy is that we simply cannot easily access cognitive sympathy without somatic sympathy, and the thousands of examples that occur everyday manifesting this truth.
    – The Fireman who runs into a burning building to save lives.
    – The soldier who runs toward enemy fire to save his brothers and sisters.
    – The child who defends a friend being attacked by bullies:
    These aren’t examples of empathy – they are total manifestations of sympathy, before cognitive empathy becomes conscious!

    What these psychologists have done is confused apathy, idifference and cynicism with sympathy. And, their conclusion is that sympathy is negative, it follows that empathy is good. There is more than one problem with this glaring mistake.

    What she and many other psychologists have done is confused apathy, indifference and cynicism with sympathy. And, their conclusion is that sympathy must be negative, so it follows that empathy is good. Neurological and cognitive fact: sympathy always precedes empathy! Without sympathy, empathy -might occur…but probably not. And certainly in a critical incident, an empathetic response will be far too late if someone’s life is at stake.”…

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