Empathy vs. Sympathy and why you should care

This past Monday I shared a video about how human beings are soft-wired to exhibit empathy. Because empathy is part of who we are as a species, being a happy productive human being means you have to eventually break through the shell of the lesser self and care about others.

Organizations are the same way. The orgs that seek to connect with peers, partners, supporters, and friends thrive, while the orgs that continue to close themselves off from others eventually perish. The key difference here is empathy.

How can you demonstrate empathy online?

It goes without saying that the best way your organization can show you care is face-to-face. But what about your Facebook page? What about Twitter?

The first thing is to understand what empathy is. Empathy is not sympathy. Sympathy has an implied power structure that places the receiver below you. Sympathy also means that you are separate from the person that you have sympathy for.

Empathy on the other hand, means that you are experiencing what another person experiences. It’s as if you are one with that person. Sympathy is arrogant. Empathy is compassionate.

Empathy vs. sympathy and why you should care

The reason why it’s important to understand the difference between empathy and sympathy is that everything you do online is a reflection of your attitude.

People can tell if you’re looking down on them. People can tell if you really care. And yes, they can tell even online.

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  1. I feel ya.

    A random observation: Some online tools create a kind of “Empathy Without Borders”: For example, yesterday my younger brother e-mailed me a smart-assed comment: “Is Bon Iver some type of Scotch Whiskey?” and my G-Mail suddenly had alcohol-related ads along with the electronic-health-records ads from a recent string of e-mails.  Is this a sort of online empathy?  Possibly.  Is there a genuine quality to true empathy that goes beyond this (I certainly think so)?  Might it even head toward intimacy?