[Applied Psychology] Empathy, Not Sympathy

If there’s one concept I mastered within this field, it’s being able to quickly gauge how severely a situation might impact other people, while keeping myself removed from the emotional weight of unfortunate situation. I can fully empathize that a person has lost hours of time, however, I don’t let any sympathetic emotions overwhelm me. We’re all victims of circumstances. So, if you’d rather keep complaining about situations without trying to change, don’t read below.

There are two ways to handle situations: logical and emotional.

I recently barreled through a situation that left me stressed out for hours. The situation was, overall, alright. Logically, there wasn’t much to do other than keep the momentum. Emotionally, I had to calm down. There were a number of paths to take, some self-destructive, most not. With that situation, you can empathize that I was experiencing stress, without sympathizing with the stress enough to become stressed out yourself.

In a sense, sympathy will drag you down. Empathy is analyzing the situation.

When you look at situations, determine what needs to be done. With that situation, was there a part to replace? Was there some code to debug? Was there a form to fill out? None of the above. So the situation was an emotional one. Empathy is like figuring out what emotional part to replace. It’s debugging some pain point. It’s dumping out the fear or sadness and filling that space with something positive.

I took the photo above while walking through a sketchy part of town.

From the road, ignoring the private property signs to trek into the bush, were probably people with significantly worse situations than me. Homeless, disadvantaged individuals, temporary squatters, or anyone really that just decided to get out of the system entirely. Some have told me about the good jobs they’ve given up due to stress. Others prefer to fix their problems in their own way.

These situations, and mine, are like pulling the thorn out of a lion’s paw.

When Androcles hides in a cave and finds a lion that has a thorn in its paw, he doesn’t sympathize with the lion. He doesn’t stab himself with a thorn and wallow in pain along with the lion. He does empathize with the situation. If a thorn were in his foot, he’d be wallowing out in pain as well. Throwing caution aside, as you can in modern situations when others would rather slack off to fix any situation, Androcles acts!

Not every troubleshooting solution is as easy as pulling out a thorn.

However, the more situations you encounter – experiencing wasteful conversations, hearing stories about how people must steal to survive, and feeling the totality of physical pains – the quicker you can act. When you’ve seen a situation once or twice, you have to analyze how to solve it. When you’ve seen a situation hundreds of times before, it’s just a matter of going through the process to fix the situation.

Don’t wallow, just act toward fixing any overwhelming situation.

My big goal is writing. My most important goal is writing "The Story." All other goals should work toward that central goal. My proudest moment is the most recent time I overcame some fear, which should have been today. I'm a better zombie than I was yesterday. I'm not better than you and you're not better than me. Let's strive to be better every day.