Empathy is being "with" someone in their current emotional state. -Bob Hamp
Sympathy is disconnected--you're looking AT the person in their grief. Empathy is being WITH the person in their grief. Not too many people do that! It's a lot easier to do a drive-by sympathy wave--"oh I'm so sorry for your loss," but we don't dare stop and ask the person how they are really doing. No, that would be TMI ("too much information" for those of you who aren't acronym buffs!). We feel more comfortable dealing with surface level stuff. We don't want to go too deep, right? We might find out something we don't want to know or worse, we don't know how to handle.
We would much rather say our sympathies than to show empathy. Get it? It's easier to say how sorry you are for another person's plight, but it's a whole heck of a lot harder to enter into their predicament. One is in word, the other is in deed.
When I say "enter into," that doesn't mean you take on their problem as your problem. (Read yesterday's post if you haven't already. I talk more about enabling and rescuing behaviors.) Showing empathy is just like Bob Hamp says, "being with someone." Empathy is taking the time to wrap your arm around someone and understand where they are coming from (or at least TRY to understand).
On the other hand, I know first hand what it feels like to have career-ending injuries. I know what it feels like to be clinically depressed. I know what it feels like to struggle with body image and self esteem. I know what it feels like to feel lost without a clear vision for the future. I know what it feels like to lay childhood dreams to rest after going for it and coming up short.
Although I can't show empathy to everyone I meet, I can try. Instead of doing the comfortable, easy, quick drive-by sympathy wave, I can STOP. Pause. Imagine what they *might* be going through on the inside. Put myself in their shoes.
But the fact is most people don't want to take the time. They would rather stay surface level and give the person a pat on the back and say, "I'm sorry." But really it's like they are saying, "It sucks to be you. Glad I'm not in your shoes." When you don't even stop and try to understand, it's like you really don't care and you're just performing a nicety by saying you're sorry.
When we stop and actually take the time to relate to another person and be with them in their predicament, it opens up a whole new level of relationship. We grow, learn more about that person and also more about ourselves.
Stop with the sympathy drive-bys and take time to enter into someone else's world.
Ask them about what they are going through.
How they are feeling. Ask them if you can do anything for them.
These small, simple acts of kindness can go a long way.