When we are confronted with the pain of others and how we choose to react defines the distinction between empathy and sympathy, argues Dr. Brene Brown. In asking what is the best way to ease someone's pain and suffering, Dr. Brown notes that our best response is a real, genuine, empathetic response. In doing so however, we risk exposing our own vulnerabilities.
Dr. Brown writes on her blog:
"It’s difficult to respond to the tragedies of strangers – even those we think we know – because we will never have access to the whole truth. In the absence of information, we make up stories, stories that often turn out to be our own biographies, not theirs."
Brown notes that empathy is a choice and it is a vulnerable choice. It is a choice we make to both open ourselves up and to be ok with exposing our own vulnerabilities. It is a choice we make to connect with people rather than push them away. This here, is the distinction between empathy and sympathy. Empathy is the connection while sympathy creates a distance between us and the person suffering. It is the difference between a simple response(sympathy) a genuine connection(empathy).
"Empathy is feeling WITH people"
In 2010 Dr. Brene Brown presented a TED Talk on “The Power of Vulnerability”. Since it's publication it has garnered over 12.5 million views. Brown masterfully delivers insights into vulnerability, authenticity and human connection. Brown is funny and charismatic and is breathe of fresh air in the over-crowded "self-help" market.
The RSA(Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce) commissioned this beautiful animated piece based on a Dr. Brown lecture. The animated short is a reminder that empathy is paramount to making a genuine connection with the people around us and that our own vulnerability is key.
"Rarely does a response make something better, what makes something better is a connection."
Voice: Dr Brené Brown
Animation: Katy Davis www.gobblynne.com