Do Unto Others As You Would Have Them Do Unto You – What Is Sympathy, Empathy & Compassion?

If you want others to be happy, practice compassion.
If you want to be happy, practice compassion.
– The Dalai Lama

After my blog yesterday about joy, I suddenly started thinking about the words sympathy, empathy and compassion.

Before I ever start my daily meditation, I always ask God to grant me more compassion and to recognize my need to be more compassionate at just the right time.

I’ll never forget the story that Beth Holstein, my PSYCH-K® facilitator, provided to a group of attendees at a recent PSYCH-K® workshop I attended.  She explained the difference between sympathy, empathy and compassion.

I find myself reflecting upon Beth’s insightful story every time I’m in the presence of an individual struggling with life’s challenges.  I’d like to provide her story to you today.  The story goes like this:

Imagine you and your best friend are on a cruise ship and your friend has fallen off the side of the ship into the ocean.


The definition of the word sympathy is feelings of pity and sorrow for someone elses misfortune.  Using the scenario above, you are sympathetic when you stand sadly looking out at your friend feeling so sorry for the accident she just experienced as she’s going under very quickly.  You cry.


Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.  In the same cruise ship scenario above, you are so empathetic with this individual, you jump in after her thinking you can save her and you both drown.


Compassion is the concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others and offering something to them to eliminate their suffering.  My parents were very compassionate people and often supported the Boys Town of America offering money to what was then a juvenile home for boys.  They were very compassionate people.

Compassion, using the same scenario above, would be to scream for help and provide my best friend a line, safety net or inner tube if any of these devices are available.

Compassion is when you put on the oxygen mask first on an airplane before you try to save others.

Compassion is when you feel your work colleagues are snubbing you and ignore your every attempt to make contact with them.  Being compassionate in this incident is not to assume this gesture is a personal snub.  Think of it as the person needing a line, a raft or safety net to get them out of their own inner turmoil.

Lastly, being compassionate also includes providing myself compassion and reaching for the safety net I need when I start to get really hard on myself for my actions and reactions.  I take a deep breath and focus on the meaning of being compassionate.

Today I’ll end my blog with the gift of compassion for you and for me as I continue to provide myself and others a safety net for transformational change.  I also want to thank Beth for teaching me a huge lesson in compassion in such a safe and simple way.

As always, I send you my blessings, compassion and wishes for a prosperous and abundant life.

© Chris Waugh and Moment 2 Moment, 2011-2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Chris Waugh and Moment 2 Moment with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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