SYM AND EM.

I’ve always been a little confused by the words sympathy and empathy, and I’m pretty sure I’m not alone. I’m even more confused after reading this passage in Jenny Turner’s LRB review of Together: The Rituals, Pleasures and Politics of Co-Operation by Richard Sennett:

In the present book, one key contrast is between sympathy — ‘I feel your pain’ — and empathy, ‘maintaining eye contact even while keeping silent, conveying “I am attending intently to you” rather than “I know just what you feel” . . . Both . . . convey recognition, and both forge a bond, but the one is an embrace, the other an encounter.’

To both my wife and me, this seems completely wrong; “I know just what you feel” is what we mean by empathy, not sympathy. But this could be an age thing, a US/UK thing, or a shared idiosyncrasy. As usual, I turn to the Varied Reader; does the quoted passage agree with your sense of the words? If not, how do you distinguish them?

Comments

  1. I’m with her halfway.
    I do understand sympathy as “I feel your pain,” but I think of empathy as, “While I have no similar referent, I am distressed by your pain.”
    Sympathy, I think suggests commiseration. For instance, my grandparents died, I can relate to the pain of losing a loved one. There’s a rather direct correlation between the other person’s emotional experience and my own emotional response.
    I have not experienced the loss of a loved one to, say, murder and cannot fairly say that I know what that feels like. I can, however, imagine that it is deeply painful and experience an emotional reaction that is genuine but less immediate.
    Or more succinctly: With sympathy you co-experience, with empathy you extrapolate an understanding of the exerience.

  2. The explanation in the passage seems a bit muddled to me too (and I agree with your specific criticism right after the quoted bit) — but the basic idea bashed out towards the end makes sense to me: in my usage, empathy means understanding how someone feels, sympathy means caring how they feel (up to and including feeling the same way, the emotional equivalent of sympathetic vibration).

  3. For me, empathy is both an intellectual and emotional understanding of what the other person is going through. It needn’t be based on actual experience, but on a bit of projection. I’ve not lost a child to death, but as a parent, I know very well what sort of hole that would leave. I’ve lost other family members; I know people who have lost children.
    Sympathy is — by far — the lesser emotion, though it can be painful. I can feel sympathy for someone who’s going through a rough patch (for any value of ‘rough’). I can even feel sympathetic pain when I see someone injured. But it is not as deep an emotion as the empathy which is a joining of the experiences of two people.
    Now… want to take on ‘empathic’ and ‘empathetic’?

  4. Bathrobe says:

    I agree with Matt. Sympathy is akin to compassion; the ability to feel the pain that the other person is feeling and to share in that pain. It is a spontaneous emotion generated by identifying with the other person. Empathy is, I think, more dispassionate: it is the ability to put yourself in the other person’s shoes and understand what they are feeling. I suspect it is something that needs to be cultivated rather than an instinctive ‘feeling sorry for someone’. Empathy is surely also broader than sympathy, in that it could extend to things that we may not exactly “sympathise” with. Somehow (I could be wrong) I think it’s possible to empathise with someone who has done evil things without ever feeling sympathy for them.

  5. I agree with Bathrobe about the potential for dispassionate empathy. My father is a mechanical engineering professor, and one approach to design that he tells his students about is “empathy”, where you examine a system from the perspective of one of its parts. (An example he gives is of a clever device for shelling nuts that was designed based on the idea, “Imagine the nut is trying to get out of its shell. How would you help it?”) It’s hard to imagine this approach being described as “sympathy”.

  6. I solve this problem by never using the word “empathy”. Two German words in this connection make a useful distinction: Mitleid = “suffering with”, Mitgefühl = “feeling with”. Mitleid is compassion, Mitgefühl is sympathy.
    According to the OED, the word “empathy” arose in 1904 as an attempt to translate the aesthetic concept Einfühlung in Leitfaden der Psychologie (1903) by Theodor Lipps. It defines it as “The power of projecting one’s personality into (and so fully comprehending) the object of contemplation”:

     1904 ‘V. Lee’ Diary 20 Feb. in ‘Lee’ & Anstruther-Thompson Beauty & Ugliness (1912) 337 Passing on to the æsthetic empathy (Einfühlung), or more properly the æsthetic sympathetic feeling of that act of erecting and spreading.    1909 E. B. Titchener Lect. Exper. Psychol. Thought-Processes i. 21 Not only do I see gravity and modesty and pride?but I feel or act them in the mind’s muscles. This is, I suppose, a simple case of empathy, if we may coin that term as a rendering of Einfühlung.    Ibid. v. 185 All such ‘feelings’?normally take the form, in my experience, of motor empathy.    1912 Academy 17 Aug. 209/2 [Lipps] propounded the theory that the appreciation of a work of art depended upon the capacity of the spectator to project his personality into the object of contemplation. One had to ‘feel oneself into it’.? This mental process he called by the name of Einfühlung, or, as it has been translated, Empathy.

  7. Yes, I am well aware that compassion and sympathy have the same “etymological structure”. Fact is, though, they have different meanings. Just as do Leid and Gefühl.

  8. I believe that “empathy” is a modern word, coined by a psychologist, maybe denoting some therapeutic technique. But by now who knows what people mean by it, or whether they mean anything different from “sympathy”, unless they tell you?

  9. I’d say that sympathy is something you experience whether you like it or not, whereas empathy is something you do, or at least something you arouse within yourself.

  10. Good point, John. But my experience has been that people use “empathy” in all kinds of weasly, artificial, ill-defined ways. That’s why I don’t use it. Whenever possible I prefer to avoid uncertainty, rather than discuss it.
    “Empathy” is a word I don’t need, whatever anyone urges as to what it might or should mean.

  11. I’ve always thought that empathy was *sensing* others’ emotions while sympathy is *sharing* them. Eg, I’m not a very sensitive person — lacking in empathy– but once I figure out what’s going on I am likely to be full of sympathy.
    Recently though I encounter people using empathy as though it were just a synonym for sympathy, so I dunno.

  12. grackle says:

    I come in close to John @8:54PM. My sense is that I sympathize when someone else’s situation attracts a response such that I feel a compassion; at the same time I am never thus identified with them, they are in some sense out there and I am unambiguously sure that I am not in their situation. With empathy, I know that I can encompass what that other person is experiencing and to some extent that we are both prey to whatever it is. There is not the sense that they are separate and I am sending out a feeling of sympathy because I am certain that I know the experience and I am with them in essence. This may seem to be a projection but it is a matter of real experience to say one has empathy.

  13. Bathrobe says:

    One other thing: ‘empathy’ sounds less condescending than ‘sympathy’, and people probably use it because of that. Nobody likes being felt sorry for. ‘Empathy’ is a way of being sympathetic without the condescension.

  14. Bathrobe: Nobody likes being felt sorry for. ‘Empathy’ is a way of being sympathetic without the condescension.
    Another good point. That explains my vague recollection that “empathy” is occasionally a weasly word: someone means sympathy, but says empathy in the hope of avoiding the appearance of condescension.
    I feel neither sympathy nor empathy for willing participants in such a hypersensitive atmosphere of don’t-tread-on-me and I-only-mean-well. What a subworld of sadsacks, in which sympathy has to be handled like a hot potato !
    I’m surprised that no one has taken up my idea of dealing with semantic uncertainty by tossing the peccant item out the window, no matter what anyone else may think. Of course it’s always nice to discuss a bit, but at some point we can consider whether to cut our losses. A language can grow, but like a shrub it can also be cut back for stronger growth.

  15. Isn’t there an element of liking, agreeing in sympathy not present in empathy, which only means ‘understanding someone’s feelings’ without being sympathetic to them or agreeing with them or even liking what they reflect?
    Like when a minister says ‘I understand their anger’ about protesters – this is empathy rather than sympathy?

  16. Grumbly, we can’t even agree which two of furze, gorse, and whin, which are absolute synonyms, to get rid of, and you have hopes of disposing of empathy? Not likely.

  17. I have no hopes that other people will refrain from using the word. Other people will do as they please. All I can do is not use the word myself, mention that I do not use it, and explain why. It does seem to be a new idea, although what it boils down to is: “Just don’t” (the Nancy Reagan defense).

  18. I’ve always seen it in a similar way to John @08:54PM & grackle @11:03PM. I’ve always felt that empathy implied a deeper emotional connection to the feelings of another, while sympathy was a more intellectually based compassion.

  19. Actually I think much of the English-speaking community has resolved the gorse/furze/whin problem by not knowing any of those words.

  20. Yeah, what do I know about bucolic matters ?

  21. Everyone knows gorse from Pooh. I would never use empathy or empathise, it’s too vague.

  22. My perception is generally Hat’s, I think. It looks like this:
    1. empathy = knowing what someone is experiencing. (Consequently if you have not had the specific experience that the other person has had, then a claim to empathy needs to be buttressed by argument.) Also, empathy does not have to be about a bad experience.
    2. Sennett’s “I am attending intently to you” is neither empathy nor sympathy (besides being clumsily expressed). After all, a cheetah attends intently to a gazelle.
    3. Sympathy, as the maturer word, has a less circumscribed meaning. It sometimes means a natural emotional compassionating (which as some have pointed out, does not necessarily require empathy). But then it may also imply a sharing of opinion, which is something that empathy doesn’t claim (e.g. not only do I thoroughly understand your feelings about Mr Git, but I too would like to wring his neck).
    But it’s fascinating the range here of different understandings of these slippery words!
    Such words are apt to be used insincerely, or to be condemned as insincere. An expression of sympathy can be condescending. But so can a claim of empathy; besides provoking scepticism.
    Perhaps both words are a little discredited, but this is not new and it’s an eternal debate. Dr Johnson warned of those who “pay us by feeling”. Yet when we fall over, we still need a hug.

  23. dearieme says:

    The big difference is that I would use “sympathy” but never “empathy” – it’s arrived in common use during my adult life and I can’t work out what it’s supposed to mean beyond “Look at me, I’m using a more sophisticated word than “‘sympathy’.”

  24. Bill Walderman says:

    These comments attempting to articulate a fine and super-subtle distinction between two subjective psychological states demonstrate that there’s no real difference between the two words.

  25. Sympathy: “Your pain is my pain at an emotional level.”
    Empathy: “I understand your pain (or other emotion) at an intellectual level. I may also share your pain at an emotional level, but not necessarily.”
    This is why in the drugstore they have “sympathy cards,” but not “empathy cards.”

  26. marc b. says:

    i agree with the shared experience empathy/sympathy distinction. in other words you can only experience empathy in circumstances where you have had a similar experience, a deja vu of sorts. or something like that. for example, i couldn’t empathize with someone who was unjustly imprisoned, but i could feel sympathy for him/her. this is how i explain it to my kids anyway.

  27. John Roth says:

    I seem to use the term empathy in the stricter or more limited sense: to me it means feeling what the other person is feeling in the moment. That’s probably conditioned by a fair amount of reading in current brain research, where empathy seems to be mediated by specific brain circuits that can be disturbed by (possibly congenital) brain damage.

  28. According to the OED, the word “empathy” arose in 1904 as an attempt to translate the aesthetic concept Einfühlung in Leitfaden der Psychologie (1903) by Theodor Lipps
    Ah, that explains why it’s so fuzzy and causes so much disagreement. I think I’m going to join Grumbly in his boycott.

  29. mollymooly says:

    Sympathy is what you got from the vicar and his wife in the 1950s. Empathy is what you got from the guru and his wives in the 1970s.

  30. the aesthetic concept Einfühlung
    aesthetic? really?
    In any case I am happy to take it on faith that (some) practicing psychotherapists use the word and maintain the distinction between the two words in a way that is clear to them, and useful in their work. But in the wider world I agree that the distinction, if any, is fuzzy, unreliable, variable from speaker to speaker–and therefore that the word is of little or no use to me.
    About that other thing: I think that Whinny-the-Pooh fell in a bush and had to pull gorse-prickles out of his furze.

  31. aesthetic? really?
    Yes, as in the OED citations I gave above:

    1904 ‘V. Lee’ Diary 20 Feb. in ‘Lee’ & Anstruther-Thompson Beauty & Ugliness (1912) 337 Passing on to the æsthetic empathy (Einfühlung), or more properly the æsthetic sympathetic feeling of that act of erecting and spreading. … 1912 Academy 17 Aug. 209/2 [Lipps] propounded the theory that the appreciation of a work of art depended upon the capacity of the spectator to project his personality into the object of contemplation. One had to ‘feel oneself into it’.? This mental process he called by the name of Einfühlung, or, as it has been translated, Empathy.

    But in case you meant to suggest that sich einfühlen in is nowadays/also an ordinary expression having nothing to do with aesthetics, you would be right.

  32. Treesong says:

    As a side issue, in SF&F, a telepath reads thoughts, an empath reads emotions, and what’s a sympath? Googling *paths -*path, I get 158K hits for em- and 24K for sym-, with the latter tending to be nonmental or related to J.R. Ward’s vhampire books.

  33. narrowmargin says:

    I’ve always thought that sympathy, however good or appropriate it is, was an “outside thing”. But that empathy involved a “getting into”, that is, an “inside identification”, creating a “oneness” perhaps, even if the problem isn’t exactly the same between the two people.

  34. I was startled by “aesthetic” because I had imagined that the new psychological term was primarily about relations between people.

  35. “In fact, he did not seem to find it necessary to define himself in relationship to me at all!”
    Said of the refreshingly unempathetic poet Gary Snyder

  36. Trond Engen says:

    To me sympathy is to share a feeling or have a positive feeling towards someone, while empathy is the ability to imagine the emotional, uh, universe of another person. It’s a skill or, if it can’t be learned, a character trait. I agree that show empathy and the like are wearing down the distinction, but I think some of the reason might be that since sympathetic means “likable”, people may feel the need to express distinctly the “share emotions” meaning of empathize.
    And I think that is an older, wider sense of aesthetic.

  37. Here’s some context for that quote; Peter Coyote is remembering a visit from the poet:

    He was wearing an old straw hat that shaded his eyes, and I remember him cocking his head to one side to look at me. His look was so clearly appraising, so without social camouflage as to be startling. The visit was uneventful. We ate crackers and talked. Gary was not overweening, and he made interesting conversation—in the parlance of the time, he was “together.” His body was muscular and lithe. His eyes crinkled pleasantly when he smiled. His voice was cultivated, and his speech was very precise and peppered with geological terms like schist, upthrusts, and substrate.

    I was a little crestfallen by this initial encounter. He had not congratulated me for carrying the banner of Beat liberation struggles onto new battlefields, nor acknowledged me as a peer, nor questioned me in any way about my revolutionary lifestyle and politics. All he had done was look me over as if asking himself, “What’s this guy about?” He did not find it necessary to locate me philosophically or politically. In fact, he did not seem to find it necessary to define himself in relationship to me at all! I had shared some peanut butter and crackers and a pleasant time with him, and that was that. After he had driven off, little remained in my memory except that initial penetrating visual query. It made me squirm mentally and I did not know why.

  38. Tipping my humble hat…

  39. Tim May says:

    It seems to me that you can sympathize with a position, but you can only empathize with a person.

  40. em = related to the Latin prefix im-, or in- meaning “not” or “having the opposite meaning of the word it is describing”.
    sym = “together” in Greek
    -pathy = From Greek “pathos”, meaning “suffering”; ardency, passion = some kind of “feeling”.
    Sympathy is 同情 in Chinese, which is somewhat translated verbatim via Greek, which has the meaning of “feeling the same thing together with another person”.
    Empathy would then seem to be the opposite of “sympathy”: To not have the same feeling as someone else does.

  41. em = related to the Latin prefix im-, or in- meaning “not” or “having the opposite meaning of the word it is describing”.
    As in empower, embellish, ensure, emphatic, embolism, …

  42. Bill Walderman says:

    @Gpa: Just to set the record straight, and without intending to be offensive:
    You wrote:
    ‘em = related to the Latin prefix im-, or in- meaning “not” or “having the opposite meaning of the word it is describing”.’
    em- in “empathy” is from the Greek preposition/verbal prefix en-, which is related to the Latin preposition/verbal prefix in- and has the same meaning–not surprisingly English “in.” The ooronal nasal -n- in Greek (and Latin) is assimilated to the following labial -p- to become -m-.
    The Greek equivalent to the English negative prefix un- and Latin in- is the so-called “alpha privative” a- (from an original proto-Indoeuropean syllabic n). The prefix Latin prefix in- is ambiguous: it can mean either “in” or “un-”.
    So “empathy” doesn’t mean “not to have the same feeling . . .” It’s actually a loan translation from German Ein-fuehlung, “to feel into”. Usually loan translations go the other way–from Greek to German–but in this instance, the English word was coined from an invented (but see below) Greek word calqued on a German word.
    Ø cites three words in which the prefix em- is derived from Latin in- meaning “in” `via French: empower, embellish, ensure. Emphatic and embolism are from Greek en-, with the -n- assimilated to the following labial.
    The LSJ Greek dictionary indicates that the word empatheia is actually attested in a few places: Galen, Ptolemy and the 11th century Byzantine philosopher Michael of Ephesus (never heard of him before either, but he was important enough to earn a Wikipedia entry: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_of_Ephesus ). Sympatheia is much more widely attested in a number of authors.

  43. Hm. I’ve always taken empathy – from nursing training actually – to be the ability to walk around in the subject’s shoes (projection). You don’t just feel sorry for a person’s circumstances (sympathy); rather, you have a more complete visceral and emotional connection with, and understanding of, the subject’s situation. Therefore, you are better equipped to offer (actually useful) help.

  44. I second peacay’s definition of the distinction — it’s how it was laid out to me in elementary school in the ’90s.
    And speaking of Pooh, can anyone explain to me the difference between a copse and a spinney?

  45. Whenever this discussion has come up before in my life, I have resorted to the scientific use of the word “sympathetic” in regards to resonance. When two strings are tuned to the same note and only one is plucked, the other will vibrate “in sympathy.” Not only is this a clear example, but I feel it is especially poetic to think of our own emotions as tuned strings vibrating in sympathy with someone else’s. And then typically at this point in the conversation, nobody really cares what empathy is anymore.

  46. peacay: Hm. I’ve always taken empathy – from nursing training actually – to be the ability to walk around in the subject’s shoes (projection). You don’t just feel sorry for a person’s circumstances (sympathy); rather, you have a more complete visceral and emotional connection with, and understanding of, the subject’s situation. Therefore, you are better equipped to offer (actually useful) help.
    Of the uses of “empathy” so far mentioned, this is the only one that deserves serious attention, in my opinion. Clearly a word is needed to denote that nursing ability. Although I had a brief attack of epistemological tummy gripes at the notions of “projection” and “visceral and emotion connection with”, I must admit that I understand what you’re saying. It is what the German word Einfühlung means, at a somewhat more general level.
    It’s a pity that “empathy” is otherwise used in ways annoyingly hard to identify, but that’s the way the oreo disintegrates.

  47. “rather, you have a more complete visceral and emotional connection with, and understanding of, the subject’s situation. Therefore, you are better equipped to offer (actually useful) help.”
    That must explain why we see lacrimose ambulance attendants and overwrought doctors administering care through their veil of hidden tears. How did we ever let the “I feel your pain” school of psycho-blubbery corrupt our common-sense and rubberize our backbones? A bas les ecoles primaires and their sissified sensitivity training!

  48. Well said, Hozo. I feel your pain? No, you bloody don’t. Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen.

  49. Hozo, I can well imagine that attendants become lacrimose, and doctors overwrought, after having to deal with you. If you give them as good as you usually dish out at this site, they might well forget to remove a vein clamp after your Caesarean. Come to think of it, that may explain your standard mood.
    I too have strong reservations about notions such as “projection”, but also about “common-sense” and “sissified”. Is “Hozo” a coy contraction of “Honcho” ?
    I often hear people complaining about the way they were treated by nurses and doctors in a hospital. It’s hard to credit, since I have never experienced anything negative as an in-patient. The only explanation I can find is that these people expect to be handled like the little princesses they are.
    I’m a bastard myself, but not a supercilious bastard like the Hozo persona.

  50. mollymooly says:

    Maybe “empathy” has taken over the old meaning of “sympathy”, which is now pushed off into what used to be called “pity”, which now has pejorative connotations of condescension rather than fellowship.

  51. Maybe “empathy” has taken over the old meaning of “sympathy”, which is now pushed off into what used to be called “pity”, which now has pejorative connotations of condescension rather than fellowship
    Then the process of substitution / euphimization, if it is recent in Englih, shouldn’t have reached other languages influenced by English.
    Which seems to be the the case in Russian, where wiki specifically points out that “empathy” is a narrowly scientific terms, not to be confused with commiseration or identifying with someone else’s condition. Even Roerich’s painting, which graces English wiki entry for “Empathy”, is reserved for the Russian wiki entry for “Commiseration” (equivalent to “Sympathy”, check the left-hand panel for the English equivalent).
    Of course since “sympathy” finds a super-popular false cognate in Russian симпатия and especially симпатичный, I just avoid using it altogether. Maybe that’s the reason why old “sympathy” may be loosing ground? Just too many Russians around ;) ?

  52. The psycho-babblers claim I undoubtedly suffer from CRAP (Curmudgeons Replicative Acute Phylogeny). I just figured it was Uncle Bussey and his ordinary orneryness.
    Thanks for the kind words Herr Grumbly, pilgrim.

  53. I generally follow hat’s usage. I believe I would say something like, “I empathize with the murderer [because he was beaten/abused as a child, so I can see that he's had a rough time of it] but I do not sympathize with him [that is, I don't feel sorry for him on death row].”
    Nearly parallel, I guess, would be the thought that “I understand why you’re doing this, but I don’t condone it.”

  54. Bathrobe says:

    Does anyone else feel uncomfortable with the Wikipedia treatment of the etymology of ‘empathy’?
    The English word is derived from the Greek word ἐμπάθεια (empatheia), “physical affection, passion, partiality” which comes from ἐν (en), “in, at” + πάθος (pathos), “passion” or “suffering”. The term was adapted by Hermann Lotze and Robert Vischer to create the German word Einfühlung (“feeling into”), which was translated by Edward B. Titchener into the English term empathy.
    The sequence seems to be:
    1. Greek ἐμπάθεια was ‘adapted’ into German as Einfühlung.
    2. Einfühlung was translated into English as ‘empathy’.
    3. English ‘empathy’ is derived from Greek ἐμπάθεια.
    It seems to me that either two different explanations are being rolled into one, or the explanation isn’t sufficiently detailed or nuanced to resolve contradictions.
    If the wording was something like, ‘Tichener created “empathy” as a translation of the German word Einfühlung by going back to the original Greek term ἐμπάθεια on which Einfühlung was modelled’, then it would make a bit more sense to me. But without this vital link in knowledge and awareness, the three steps hang together awkwardly.

  55. “Nobody likes being felt sorry for.”
    Come on now. Some people milk that emotion. Also, people with illnesses often like being sympathized with.

  56. @Hozo: The psycho-babblers claim I undoubtedly suffer from CRAP (Curmudgeons Replicative Acute Phylogeny). I just figured it was Uncle Bussey and his ordinary orneryness.
    I agree with you about psychobabble. I myself find that “fear”, “orneriness”, “uncertainty”, “anger” etc can provide adequate explanations for a lot of behavior, including my own, that is initially hard to account for or just plain ass-chapping.
    But that’s one thing. Quite another is your suggestion that nurses and doctors become lacrimose and overwrought as a result of a psychobabblerous disposition. If you believe that, you can’t possibly have made the acquaintance of many medical people. Almost anyone would get like that when confronted every day with suffering and death in quantities.
    Medical practitioners who stick the course must learn to distance themselves in some way, for example by employing sarcasm (“Scrubs”) or psychobabble. Psychobabble is a cure, not a cause.
    @Chance: “I understand why you’re doing this, but I don’t condone it.”
    That’s one of those sententious templates from which other sentences can be obtained that make just as much sense:

    1. I understand why you’re doing this, and I condone it.
          [because I would do the same]
    2. I don’t understand why you’re doing this, but I condone it.
          [because I believe you are entitled to do whatever you please]
    3. I condone what you’re doing, but I don’t understand why you do it.
          [you're doing what I think is right, although I would not have expected that from you]
    4. I don’t condone why you are doing this, and I don’t understand why you do it.
          [I disapprove both of what you do, and of why you do it]

    Having recently read the Prior Analytics, and being now in the process of reading Ong’s book on Ramus, I see medieval syllogistic possibilities everywhere. By the way, does anyone know Aristotle’s family name, or was there no modern notion of “family name” à l’époque ? Was it merely a convention in philosophy to refer to people by their first names, say “Aristotle” or “Miou-Miou” ?
    Over the years, when I have remembered to, I have noted down variations on “familiarity breeds contempt”:

    Familiarity breeds contempt – and children.
          - Mark Twain (Notebooks, 1883-1891)
    Tout comprendre, c’est tout pardonner.
          - Tolstoi (War and Peace, 1868)
    Tout comprendre rend trés-indulgent.
          - Staël (Corinne, 1807)
    Was wir verstehen, das können wir nicht tadeln.
          - Goethe (Torquato Tasso, 1790)
    Qui ne sait celer ne sait aimer.
          - Stendhal

  57. I think that the observations by Twain and Stendhal contain more delightful psychological knots than the others do.

  58. It would be more accurate to say that psychobabble is homeopathic. It can be a cure or a cause, depending on the dosage.

  59. By the way, does anyone know Aristotle’s family name, or was there no modern notion of “family name” à l’époque ?
    The latter. Aristotle’s full ID would have been “Aristotle of Stageira, son of Nicomachus.”

  60. Rodger C says:

    To extend Bill Walderman’s comment: The word Gpa is reaching for is “apathy.”

  61. “I should not be surprised if a hundred years from now [i.e. 226 B.C.E.], men still remember the name of Aristoteles of Stageira.” —L. Sprague de Camp, An Elephant for Aristotle

  62. I use empathy a bit more broadly. It can cover several of the meanings mentioned above, like the feeling of shared experience. It includes the “rush” I get from being around people who are happy, as well as the sadness from being around people who are distressed. It can include the sense of identity that I sometimes feel when watching someone do something difficult, such that my own muscles feel each movement as though I were making it myself.
    And although I was once a Pooh fan, I have no idea what the difference between a copse and a spinney is. But I think an umbrella makes a good boat…doesn’t it?
    Sympathy has a narrower range of meaning. Emotional sympathy comes from caring about a person’s problems and wanting them to feel better.

  63. Tout comprendre, c’est tout pardonner.
    - Tolstoi (War and Peace, 1868)

    Burning with shame, I confess that, as with so many things, my previous experience of this phrase is through Bertie Wooster.

  64. Julie: A copse (or coppice) is a small thicket of trees, originally one grown for frequent cutting to provide firewood or building wood. A spinney generally contains or at least is rumored to contain wild game, presumably including Woozles or (as it may be) Wizzles.

  65. marie-lucie says:

    Trond: To me sympathy is to share a feeling or have a positive feeling towards someone, … sympathetic means “likable”…
    Not in English, I think. These are the French meanings of sympathie and sympathique (and similarly the corresponding Spanish and Italian words). If you find someone sympathique or simpatico on first meeting them, it means that you “hit if off”, you feel you are “on the same wavelength”, you feel comfortable being with that person. In English, someone can only be sympathetic to another in specific instances, for example if you are in dire straits and this person can “feel your pain”. As someone mentioned earlier, one can also be sympathetic to an idea or a position, meaning that one finds the idea appealing (and conversely for unsympathetic).

  66. One thing I don’t understand about sympathique etc.: is it that you are either sympathique or not with someone, or can you become sympathique with the passage of time, further or closer acquaintance, etc.?

  67. marie-lucie says:

    JC, sympathique does not refer to how one feels, but on the impression one makes on others. If you meet a person who seems to you to be sympathique, you might both smile, start a conversation, get along well, and seem to be on your way to becoming friends even if you are probably never going to meet again. Speaking about the encounter to other people, you can say about it: nous avons sympathisé.
    The opposite is antipathique: the person may have a sour expression, an icy demeanour, or give an impression of dishonesty or other moral flaws, all of which turn people off and defeat any attempt or desire (even on their own part) to be friendly.
    For instance, in current American politics, you could say that Mitt Romney strikes most people (regardless of their politics) as being peu sympathique, although he would obviously like to give a friendly, favorable impression. On the other hand, many people found Clinton and GW Bush sympathique, even if they disagreed with them on various grounds.

  68. marie-lucie says:

    I guess sympathique is something like “likable”, but it indicates a more positive impression than just “likable”. Similarly with antipathique and “unlikable”.

  69. marie-lucie says:

    Also, you could say that a child, for instance, is likable, but you would not use sympathique in talking about a child, perhaps because the relationship between an adult and a child is never one of equals. But you could use it about a teen-ager, say 15 years old and up.

  70. But a child could presumably describe another child that way?

  71. marie-lucie says:

    I think that a school-aged child would be more likely to use “cool” (pronounced with a short vowel) to describe another child! Even “sympa” might seem old-fashioned. But I don’t have much contact with French children nowadays, so I don’t know the current buzzwords.

  72. Here is a 3-minute video by the Royal Society of Arts illustrating Brené Brown‘s explication of the nursing distinction between empathy (useful) and sympathy (useless).

  73. To save others the drudgery of wading through videos trying to find one where she’s introduced, “Brené” is apparently pronounced brə-NAY, like René with a b- stuck in front. (I’m trying not to be judgmental about parents who give their kids weird names, but it’s hard. She says in this interview, “My parents just made it up.”)

  74. So I guess we cisatlateans, who say RENN-ay, are justified in saying BRENN-ay

  75. You are indeed.

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