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?