Everyone is dealing with difficulties in their lives, so the least we can do is show some compassion toward others. We must override the ego and be aware of our immediate thoughts about that person or their situation. It doesn’t take much to uplift someone when you know they are in need of encouragement. Sending an inspirational card or message, attending a funeral, visiting someone in the hospital or nursing home are all signs of compassion. When you can actually relate to how the other person is feeling and what they are experiencing, you tend to have more compassion and empathy toward other people. If you want to be a more compassionate person, start with self-compassion and self-love. Rather than judging yourself harshly, practice self-compassion to change any behavior you want to change. Loving kindness and compassion toward yourself and others go a long way.
The Dalai Lama stated, “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.”
So I googled sympathy vs. empathy vs. compassion to learn the differences of these three words, and the first site that came up was operationmeditation.com. Below is what was provided:
Sympathy – feeling sorry for another’s hurt
Sympathy is feeling sorry for another’s hurt or pain. There is some emotional distance with sympathy – you are not experiencing the pain for yourself, rather you are saying “Isn’t it sad that this person is having a bad time”. Sometimes sympathy can tip into pity, and that is where some caution is needed. Pity is an emotion that tends to dehumanize and belittle. Most people who have a disability or other challenges will despise being ‘pitied’ as pity strips away the rich reality of their human experience and leaves just the difficulty or disability on view. For a deeper relationship and understanding, empathy is needed.
Empathy – walking in another’s shoes
Empathy takes things a little deeper – it is the ability to experience for yourself some of the pain that the other person may be experiencing. It is an acknowledgement of our shared experience as humans and recognition that we all feel grief and loss and pain and fear. You do not need to have experienced exactly the same events as the person who is suffering but you do need to have the ability to really imagine how they must be feeling in their situation. Empathy is a vicarious experience – if your friend is feeling afraid, you too will experience a feeling of fear in your body; if they are sad, you too will feel sorrow. Feeling empathy is allowing yourself to become tuned into another person’s emotional experience. It takes courage to do this but if you have ever experienced real empathy from another when you have been hurting, you will know what a gift it can be.
Compassion – love in action
If empathy is the ability to really experience some of the feelings of pain that another person is feeling, then compassion is to translate that feeling into action. You understand that your friend is feeling worried and stressed with their aging relative in hospital, so you cook the family some dinners and take their children for an afternoon. True compassion reaches out to all people, no matter whether they are your friends or not, and even to all living creatures. It is the ability and willingness to stand alongside someone and to put their needs before your own. Living a compassionate life can be learned – it is not just something that some ‘extra-good’ people are born with. Changing habits takes persistence and practice but it is achievable through the right methods. Many of the worlds’ wisest people have stated that giving to others in life is the source of the greatest contentment and life satisfaction, so there are many personal benefits to be gained as well.
When we come to know others and understand them on a deeper level, we can more accurately identify their needs and concerns. Here is what I have learned recently from an online video course taken from the Project Management Institute, Inc. entitled, “Leading with Emotional Intelligence.”
We all remember the Golden Rule from our childhoods: “Do to others as you would have them do to you.”
The Platinum Rule states this: “Do to others as they would want to have done to them.”
Regardless of how you might personally want to be treated, the Platinum Rule is more empathetic and accommodating to the other person’s needs. Not everyone wants to be treated the same way. Let go of the Golden Rule and use the Platinum Rule instead.