Have you ever attempted to support someone through a difficult situation and feel like you have just missed the mark completely? It’s easy to point out a silver lining, it’s easy to add an ‘at least.’ But when times are tough, sometimes it is not enough to have someone simply say, “It’s not that bad” or “I’m sorry”. Sometimes we need them to understand what the problem is and to put themselves in our shoes.
A new short from the Royal Society for the Enlightenment of Arts, voiced by Dr. Brené Brown, beautifully differentiates the sometimes confusing notions of empathy and sympathy. Dr. Brown highlights that empathy is very different to sympathy. Empathy fuels connection, while sympathy drives disconnection.
Dr Brown draws upon the work of nursing scholar Tereza Wiseman who studied diverse occupations which require elements of empathy. She found that there were four main components to being empathetic:
1. Perspective taking
2. Staying out of judgement
3. Recognising emotion in other people
4. Communicating that recognition
While the difference between empathy and sympathy is nuanced, the way Dr. Brown explains complex concepts will make you laugh out loud and the animation is incredibly thought-provoking. Dr. Brown describes empathy as the ability to get in touch with your own past and use that past to relate to the other person. Sympathy operates at an arms length and in contrast to empathy is tokenistic. Dr. Brown cheekily describes this in the video as supporting someone in a hard time by saying – “It’s hard hey, wanna sandwich?”
Take a look below.
Dr Brené Brown is a research professor and best-selling author of “Daring Greatly: How the Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent and Lead”. She has spent the past decade studying the human psyche from vulnerability and shame to worthiness and courage.
How have you initially helped someone when they have reached out to you? What approaches do you generally take?