Empathy in an emotional sea
Yesterday was #EmpathyDay2021 but I was ill in bed, sleeping for most of the day and feeling sorry for myself, which is not really what empathy is all about! So what is empathy? And how does it differ from sympathy?
Sometimes life is calm and peaceful, easy to manage. Probably the way most of us would like it to be all the time, with a few waves of excitement under a sunny sky!
Sometimes things begin to get a little rougher and the skies are cloudy...
And sometimes there are hidden currents that swirl around and threaten to pull us under while things appear very dark indeed.
What does this have to do with empathy? Well, one good explanation* I have heard about the difference between sympathy and empathy is this:
Sympathy is when you see someone drowning and you think, 'Oh dear, that poor person. It reminds me of when I nearly drowned. That was awful.' Then you walk away.
Empathy is when you see someone drowning and you throw them a life ring or reach out to help them get back to shore.
For example, if you know what it feels like to be lonely and you see someone else standing alone and looking lost, you can feel sympathy because you know how horrible that is. Or you can feel empathy and actually go over and talk to them, however awkward and uncomfortable it makes you feel. I have made many good friends in the school playground that way, especially friends from other countries and cultures.
This week I received the proof copies of Keeper of Secrets, which was hugely exciting.
But however many people give it a five-star review or say how beautiful the cover is (which it really is, thanks to the talents of Becky Thorns), the people I really want to read it are the ones who feel lonely or who are grieving but feel like they're the only one. I wrote it because I wanted to make a difference, even to one person, and to show that everyone feels that way sometimes. All the characters in the book have their own worries, fears and losses. Even while the lynx prowls the forest, loneliness stalks the people too, and they all need each other.
How can you show empathy to someone this week? You might make more difference than you know.
(To pre-order Keeper of Secrets and get an exclusive badge and signed bookplate, click the link below. Or, if it doesn't work cut and paste it into your browser)