Sympathy: I feel for you.
Empathy: I feel with you.

Sympathy: I’m with you as you feel it.
Empathy: It’s in me as I feel it.

Sympathy: I’m so sorry those shoes are hurting your feet.
Empathy: Holy crap my feet hurt.

Sympathy: Your experience takes you away from me.
Empathy: Your experience brings you closer to me.

Sympathy: I’m sorry and I don’t necessarily understand.
Empathy: I understand and I’m not necessarily sorry.

Sympathy: I care about feeling for you.
Empathy: I care about understanding you.

Sympathy: You are feeling it without me.
Empathy: I am feeling it, with or without you.

Sympathy: I’m not feeling what you’re feeling but if I did it would probably suck.
Empathy: I can feel what you’re feeling and I can feel my own feelings and I can switch between the two at will.

Sympathy: I haven’t had a similar experience but my assistant told me it must suck for you so I’m sorry for you.
Empathy: I haven’t had a similar experience but I can easily imagine your circumstances and feel them as if they were real.

Sympathy: I don’t want you to feel bad because feeling bad generally sucks.
Empathy: I don’t want you to feel bad because when I experience you feeling bad, I feel bad and that sucks.

Sympathy: We are two, permanently.
Empathy: We are one, temporarily.

Sympathy: You are less than me.
Empathy: I am the same as you.

Sympathy: I’m sure I understand.
Empathy: Oh God, I understand.

Sympathy: I will help you in Hell.
Empathy: I will join you in Hell.


Note 1: We do not feel other people’s feelings. We feel our own, always. We witness things in the world and we make our feelings in response. This is always ok.

Note 2: Amount of sympathy you’ll get from me: Not much.

Note 3: Amount of empathy you’ll get from me: Basically unlimited. Say Hello


Perhaps one did not want to be loved so much as to be understood.

George Orwell (1984)


Attention is akin to the capacity for empathy, the ability to suffer or celebrate with another as if in the other’s experience you know and find yourself. However, the idea of empathy, as it is popularly understood, underestimates the importance of knowing another without finding yourself in her…. Attention lets difference emerge without searching for comforting commonalities, dwells upon the other, and lets otherness be….

Sara Ruddick (Maternal Thinking)


The Road to Empathy

“to be able to relate to the inner world of another person, while realizing that it is not your world.” Another definition might be “to relate to the subjectivity of another, while retaining your own subjectivity.”