Friday, January 18, 2008

Sympathy, Empathy, and Compassion: "There's A Difference?"

What a morning! I was pulled up out of my own pool of ignorance this morning at my weekly bible study. See, our group has just started studying Max Lucado’s Life Lessons Series on The Gospel of Mark, and today was Lesson 1: Compassion!

There’s a whole lot to talk about, but I’ll keep this to one point: Some people look for sympathy, and some people look for empathy. But, what most people need is compassion. Or in my case: I’m good at sympathizing, and I’m decent at empathizing. But, do I need some work at being compassionate. Here, let me explain the difference between these three using Max Lucado’s words:

“Compassion is one aspect of love. Compassion may grow from feelings, but true compassion represents a practical attention to someone’s needs. It doesn’t require us to feel: it requires us to act. Sympathy says, ‘I feel bad that you’re hungry.’ Empathy says, ‘I know something about how you feel; I was hungry once myself.’ But compassion says, ‘Friend, let’s go get something to eat.’ Sympathy and Empathy don’t require us to do anything; but compassion will cause us to touch, lift, feed, and help those in need as Jesus did for the leper.”

Wow! All along I have felt that I was a compassionate person. However, now I realize that I’ve been practicing the art of sympathy and empathy, and forgetting the act of compassion. To reiterate Lucado’s argument, true compassion is about action and not about what you say or feel.

So, what can leaders take away from this? What can you as leaders do to show compassion? Or, are you even worried about this compassion thing? Is compassion an important part of leadership?

I want your thoughts. I want to dig deep and start a conversation on this, but I need your comments! One final question for you that is bound to get you thinking: Where do you draw the line? Specifically, at what point can your compassion lead to “enabling” of unwanted behaviors from your followers?

note: picture courtesy of

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ta nguyen said...

Hi! Thanks for your sharing! It's good to know.

I think that before you have compassion you need empathy and then sympathy first.

The point is, if you are not good at understanding people's feeling (empathy), can you pass the way of being a good leader?

g-force said...

I'd like to take Max Lacado's definition of Compassion further. That is, compassion requires wisdom.

What is that wisdom? I am still searching for that answer as I look in the world of Buddhism. We may feel compel to act to help the needy but not at our own expense. For example, you need to ask yourself if you would give your last dollar to someone in need not knowing where your dollar will be coming from next.

minniegirl said...

today i just read in an article that "Compassion puts love into action" and was wondering whats the difference btn compassion, sympathy and i was searching & googling for the same..i stumpled in to your blog post.. it hit the bulls eye.. i got the answer now.. Thanks for Sharing.. God bless!!!