Sympathy vs Pity

I’ve been pondering this one for a little while now. And I’ll admit, I’m still a little flustered with it. But as always, I had to go back to the definitions to try to figure this one out. So let’s start there (and forgive me, I stole parts of this one).

Sympathy, [sim-puh-thee], noun
1   harmony or agreement in feeling, as between persons or on the part of one person with respect to another
2   the harmony of feeling naturally existing between persons of like tastes or opinion or of congenial dispositions
So I guess what it’s saying is that for someone to feel sympathy, or be sympathetic to someone, then they too must understand what the other person is feeling. Whether it be good or bad. But then, I always felt that was more “empathy”. Sooooooo, let’s look at that one;
Empathy, [em-puh-thee], noun
1   the psychological identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another
2   the imaginative ascribing to an object, as a natural object or work of art, feelings or attitudes present in oneself:

Yeah. Not helping. I mean, it does. But doesn’t. I think I get it, sort of. But having a hard time explaining. Because it just confirmed what I was originally thinking. It’s all so flustering. So I decided to ask Google what the difference is. It took me to for the best explanation that I couldn’t put into words:

“Both empathy and sympathy are feelings concerning other people. Sympathy is literally ‘feeling with’ – compassion for or commiseration with another person. Empathy, by contrast, is literally “feeling into’ – the ability to project one’s personality into another person and more fully understand that person. Sympathy derives from Latin and Greek words meaning ‘having a fellow feeling’. The term empathy originated in psychology (translation of a German term, c. 1903) and has now come to mean the ability to imagine or project oneself into another person’s postion and experience all the sensations involved in that position. You feel empathy when you’ve “been there”, and sympathy when you haven’t.”

So I guess what I’ve learned from this little word study is basically a confirmation of what I already knew…..I can feel sympathy for someone, even if I “haven’t been there”. I can still fee a sense of loss, even if I haven’t experienced it. Or even a sense of accomplishment in something, even if I haven’t experienced the same accomplishment. But ignored to empathize with someone, I have to have been in their shoes. Experienced what they’ve experienced. And be able to feel the same feelings with that person. So where then, does Pity fall into this?

Pity, [pit-ee], noun
1   sympathetic or kindly sorrow evoked by the suffering, distress, or misfortune of another, often leading one to give relief or aid or to show mercy
2   a cause or reason for pity, sorrow, or regret

And this is where it get’s frustrating (worse than “flustering”). I’ve always thought of pity as a negative thing. To “feel sorry” for someone. To….pity them. It just feels negative. But as I write this, I’m finding my thought process change about pity. Reading the definition, it doesn’t sound negative at all. In fact, it reminds me of something else…..compassion.

Compassion, [kuh m-pash-uh n], noun
1   a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering

Yeah. Not much of a difference there. With the exception of the “strong desire to alleviate the suffering”. But again, there is no negative connotations in any of the above definitions. So where then is the line, between feeling sympathy, empathy, pity, or compassion, and causing harm by enabling a victim mentality in those we feel sympathy, empathy, pity, or compassion on?

For the last few years, I have had a conversation with each of my kids teachers during “meet the teacher” night prior to the beginning of school. I explain to them that the kids Mother had passed away, and they have still been known to have their “moments”. Each time I speak to a teacher, I explain that I am telling them this for the purpose of understanding, NOT as an excuse for an actions that may occur during the school year. I have NEVER allowed my kids (or myself) to use Christina’s death as an excuse for bad behavior, or as a reason for not being the absolute best that we can be. We are NOT victims. We are participants in this wonderful thing called Life. And sometimes in life, bad things happen.

In my own life, I meet a LOT of different people. As I get to know these people, “my story” always seems to find it’s way out. Not because I’m looking for sympathy, empathy, pity, or compassion. But because it’s part of me. It’s part of who I am. And while it has aided in shaping who I am today. It doesn’t rule my life. and yet, the knee jerk reaction of everyone who hears it is to say something to the effect of “I’m sorry”, “gasp!!”, “oh no”, or an other variation of an expression of sympathy, empathy, pity, or compassion. And (after doing tonights research on this topics) I must admit, I feel bad about my own knee jerk feeling (I try not to let it show)…..I hate it. I’ve learned to take these comments and gestures in stride. Since they only last a moment.

What I don’t tolerate, is a victim mentality. Ironically enough, I personally don’t get it much. But I see it a lot with my kids. Those close to me know how I feel about this. And while they try (they really do), I often see them giving my kids special treatment. Doing things for them (over and above the norm). Or even letting them get away with bad behavior because they “feel bad for them” or because “they’ve been through so much”. And I have to say…….I HATE THIS!!! It does nothing for them except breed a sense of entitlement. A sense that they deserve more because their Mom died. And this does nothing but fuel the victim mentality that is so prevalent in today’s society. It does nothing positive.

I’ve always been told (and have also experienced evidence of the same) that adversity breeds success. Whether in business, or in life. In fact, Jesus tells us the same thing:

Romans 5:1-5 say’s “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured our His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, who he has given us”

So I will end with this; as you hear me talk about “my story”. Or start to feel sorry for my kids. Stop for a second. And think twice before feeling bad for us. We are not victims. We don’t need to be treated differently than others. We are no different than anyone else. We are all participants in Life. And we have all experienced our own trials and sufferings. Ours is just……different, from yours. Maybe. But NOT worthy of special treatment. Instead, rejoice with us! For we are in the process of being strengthened. We are building perseverance, character, and hope. God is working in our lives. He knows what He is doing. And He’s doing awesome things.

And since it’s now 3 o’clock in the morning, and I have to be up at 5 (but will likely sleep till 6:30/7), I will say……….good night, and God bless. 


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