A dear friend of mine was going through a rough patch. Many a times, we would chat and I would try my best to give him the right advice. Our other friends would also do the same. But often I felt, all that advice was falling on deaf ears. Maybe he was too troubled and unable to think clearly and make sense of it all. But then again, was the issue only with him and was there something I could do differently?
I realised I felt for him and I was being sympathetic. Sympathy by itself is not a bad thing but it does not build emotional connection. Clearly, I was lacking in empathy here. When we are sympathetic, we often try to improve the situation. When a friend shares something that is very painful, we try to put a silver lining around it. We try to make things better. However, it can have the opposite effect. The fact of the matter is, if someone shares something really difficult with you, he or she would rather you say, ‘I don’t even know what to say’ than ‘Don’t feel bad’, or worse, be judgemental by saying, ‘You should not feel that way’.
Rarely can a response by itself make the situation better. What makes it better is connection. And that is what makes empathy so powerful.