Sympathy/empathy. Two words that sound alike, look alike, and are often interchanged without thought. It is hard to believe that I spent 48 years on this earth before I understood how radically different these two similar words really are. The event that brought this revelation into painfully clear focus was a split-second duel with gravity on a wonderfully bright October morning last year. Most shattered elbows can hardly be characterized as life-changing experiences. This one led to tragically disappointing medical procedures and months of therapy that have accomplished little for my mangled limb but restored my faith in people beyond comprehension.
I believe that empathy is the most preciously cherished form of all human communication. Empathy is the gravitational force that bonds souls of the most diverse people on earth into lifetime friends. The differences with its weaker cousin sympathy are too many to list but here are a few that clarify the concept.
Can be purchased at Hallmark Cannot be purchased at any price
Given by many Craved by many
Minimal emotional investment by the giver Requires great emotional revelation by the giver
Leaves you indifferent Leaves you warm
Brief pain relief Lasting healing
Quickly forgotten Relished forever
Abundant Most rare
Mostly talking Mostly listening
Tries to solve Relates
Often religious Always spiritual
Past tense Present tense
The symptom The cure
Too much can be annoying Can’t have enough
My challenge to you is to watch carefully for souls who have lost their own duels with gravity on the endless rocks in life’s road. If you have fallen on that same rock tell them. If not, help them connect with someone else who has tripped on that rock. I guarantee your efforts will be rewarded tenfold and remembered forever.
Kerry O’Connell 7/6/2005