The power of empathy

By Nida Shamsi

Reading the morning newspaper, watching the latest breaking news, or listening to an important broadcast, we all feel badly about all the wars, poverty and homelessness in the world.

However, this is on a larger scale.

What about the smaller scale?

We are all well acquainted with difficult situations, struggles and hardships, such as going through divorce, struggling with health issues or financial problems, or the many other difficulties that are affecting our families, neighbours, as well as community members.

When we hear of such events and stories, sadness overcomes us and we feel a great sense of sympathy.

However, I feel that what we fail to do so is to feel empathy.

To feel empathy, you have to be able to put yourself in that other person’s shoes and feel what they are be going through.

You have to actually feel the homeless person’s inner conflict.

You have to actually feel that war-torn person’s pain.

Without feeling this, may I ask, what do you then feel?

While true compassion comes from a place of empathy, sympathy does not.

In fact, most people don’t want out sympathy.

People don’t want us to feel sorry for them.

They want us to be compassionate, empathetic and have a genuine understanding of their situation.

We need to see that without empathy our sympathy is just a judgment and being judgmental is never helpful.

When we can “truly” empathize with the hardships of our neighbours, our families, and others in our lives, we are then in a position of showing compassion and kindness towards them.

Even if we are not in a position to alleviate the struggle of the person we are empathizing with, we will at least still be conveying compassion towards them and not pity.

While your pity is a judgment, your compassion is a kindness and kindness is what we all need in our lives.

I would like to challenge you to reflect and see when you are sympathizing without empathizing.

Then allow yourself to feel the feelings of empathy.

I’m not saying that this is an easy thing to do.

Empathy is most definitely the harder of the two feelings.

However, when you can push yourself past sympathy alone, you are a better person, a better friend, and a better neighbour.

On a larger scale, if the world can find it’s empathy, it won’t be in danger of losing its humanity.

In essence, let’s start small.

If you can empathize on a smaller scale, eventually I’m sure that you will be able to start empathizing on a larger scale as well.

Because truly, it’s like what Meryl Streep said, “The great gift of human beings is that we have the power of empathy.”


*Nida Shamsi is a Grade 11 student at the Islamic Foundation of Toronto School.