Empathy vs Sympathy 

As I was about to board the bus yesterday, a paraplegic joined me……I respectfully, stood back to allow her to enter before me….but she would not have it. “You go first” she said. I did exactly that, and then I thought to myself, “what exactly was she saying to me” ….or should I take her response at face value. All those sitting in the section reserved for her, vacated the seats and found other spots….there is just something about us when we see the weakness in others. It evokes compassion and connection. I dare not think whether we would oblige if there were no clear signs indicating that the elderly, mothers with babies and those with disabilities get priority to those seats. So I got to thinking about our actions and our intentions.

1. The Pity Party- I know many people, myself included, who host these at one time or another, whether in the past or right now as we speak. We somehow get some satisfaction from having others feel sorry for us or worse than that, we want to feel good by making others feel bad. I have seen it in marriages, in friendships, at work, in churches just about everywhere people are. I just hate them, Oh I hate them, and that’s why I gracefully went ahead of this kind young lady because she was in my mind telling me that she was not hosting that party yesterday. I loved her for that. Maybe it’s because it was Valentines Day and she had her red roses and boyfriend with her, I really don’t know but that for me was a courageous act on her part and I adore her for it. That aside, it led me to see the real person in her- she was in her boots, with her make up on and her hair out. She was deeply engaged in her conversation with her guy, they kissed, touched each other and a smile never left her face. She is alive, she is living …….I wish we could be like that more often. It reminds me of just how much we should focus on the gifts we have and never on, never-enough.

2. The Laws- so we know that persons with disability are treated with care by this society. Buildings and modes of transport must be wheel chair accessible, schools must have special equipment, policies and rooms to accommodate them, there has to be equal opportunity for them in workplaces, and the tax laws give special deductions and incentives for those so afflicted. Society makes sure they are not forgotten nor marginalized. After all, today we are healthy, bouncing around and kicking up dust, but we never know what an hour or a day brings. People with disabilities are not always born that way.

3. Charities- they abound. I have seen some really innovative ones. Those that provide just socks, those that provide cooked meals, some pay for transportation, women’s rights, homeless and dispossessed, education, the environment ……the world would be filled with darkness without the philanthropists, without the givers and we don’t have to manage and fund foundations to help…..

So let’s practice more empathy……the world needs that much more than sympathy.

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