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Sympathy

February 7, 2007

I am not a particularly sympathetic person. It is something that is both a blessing and a curse at times. This morning I read something by Tracy Alderman. It really gave me an insight into my feelings.

She says:

“When we feel sad for another, we are generally feeling sympathy. When we feel sympathetic toward others, we are seeing them as figures worthy of our pity, which in many ways is a condescending view. While empathy is a helpful emotion, sympathy is not. Sympathy keeps others in an inferior position. When we feel sympathy, we presume to know how the other person is perceiving the situation.”

She also says:

“…sympathy and any sadness it evokes, is not particularly useful; it blocks understanding and to some extent objectifies the person for whom you feel pity.”

As soon as I read that – I thought to myself – hmmmh why do I feel guilty when I don’t feel sympathy? The next thing she talks about is guilt.

“offer assistance instead of apologies.”

Hmmmh – now I am really liking this woman. I also am not particularly good at saying I am sorry. It is a shortcoming when my resistance is pride – but I am also seeing that part of my reluctance comes from “guilt that is not appropriate, necessary, or useful.”

I am particularly good at showing up and being with people when they are experiencing strong emotions – anger and grief come to mind. I am particularly empathetic, but not particularly sympathetic. There is a lot to ponder with this distinction.

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