I like to think there is a desire within each of us to be charitable. I feel we all want to help others even a little; some want to help everyone while others are very selective. I wonder is it sympathy or empathy that makes us want to help others. Maybe it is both or maybe some of us are prompted by empathy while others are prompted by sympathy. I must also point out that some only give if they feel they should receive something from the act of giving whether it be something tangible or be it mere praise and boasting rights. Some only give to show that they can. In addition, some are charitable merely to show that they want to be charitable not that they intend to give what the actually offered to provide.
I often confuse empathy with sympathy and I will admit that it wasn’t until recently that I understood the difference. Empathy can be defined as the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. Sympathy has a few meanings listed one being similar to empathy whereas it is defined as an understanding between people; common feeling. The other definition for sympathy has to do with the feelings of pity and sorrow for someone else’s misfortune. So, to break this down if I see someone’s situation and have the ability to understand that situation and the feelings caused by it then that is Empathy. If I share a common feeling or understanding with another or I find pity in someone else’s misfortune and feel sad for them then that is sympathy.
Another misconception is a meaning of compassion which can be defined as the sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others. That sounds an awful like sympathy where one has pity for the misfortunes of others. One of the common terms here is the word pity which can be defined as a sympathetic sorrow for one suffering, distressed, or unhappiness. This word can also be described as something to be regretted and Webster gives an example as “it’s a pity you can’t go”. Having compassion for someone else is the act of you feeling sad that some else’s suffering, misfortune, or unhappiness and essentially it is a feeling that it is too bad that the other person is in that situation.
I always viewed compassion as showing a level of love and caring for someone else’s feelings and happiness. Compassion has always seemed to be one’s desire to help someone else pull out of suffering, distress, or unhappiness. Compassion for one’s feelings and situation leads to charitable acts of kindness and love not pity. Pity seems so unreal, so misleading. Pity seems as if someone wants to show that they care but in reality, it’s a pity the other person is in that situation or feeling that way. It’s a pity they are having such hardships. It’s a pity meaning that it is too bad that they are where they are and it makes me sad to see them sad. Isn’t it really our sadness that we are trying to overcome? When we help someone else who is down on their luck the act of being able to help makes us actually feel better about ourselves.
Obviously, I do not speak for anyone in any situation, these are merely my thoughts. I am sure that some professional homeless people would describe all of these terms differently as would any government leaches who benefit from the kindness of others. As in a previous post I have stated that I am not one that finds accepting charity easy. I will put far more effort in not asking for help than I will humbling myself to accept it. If I break down to the point to accept help from others it took a lot of emotional and mental effort to allow myself to do so. If I actually ask for help I assure you that the battle within myself was painful and brutal. I feel I have become this way because of the pity of others and it most certainly has been pitiful.
Charity has never been without cost or expectations. The force-fed sympathy makes one feel that the pity being displayed is more along the lines that they feel that it’s too bad I have found myself in this situation and they wish I could do something to prevent it. Sometimes it seems as if they only help because it’s the right thing to do; being that in God’s eyes it’s the right thing to do and it’s expected. However; don’t you think that when the time comes there will be a possibility that God will explain to these pitiful sympathetic care givers that such acts were not just the right thing to do but they should have wanted to do them not for God but for those who were in need.
It bothers me too much when others are charitable merely for that gold star review or more so to show strength over the fallen. I also despise when one is charitable to prove a point or act political in ways promising one thing and giving essentially nothing. Take a person who finds it difficult to lower his pride and ask for help knowing that he will not be able to carry on without the help of others. Some sympathetic person with the means to help offers a plan and offers to not only help this person out of the dark hole he found himself in but also to provide assistance to keep him above water until he can swim on his own. To have such an offer seems so genuine and certainly feels as if it was divine.
The one person that pride filled people who have been scared by acts of charity can ask for help from is God himself. When someone comes and offers a way out and offers to help you stand after; that must be from God. Even the prideful stubbornness would see that it would be foolish to reject such divine intervention after silently praying for such help. This would seem like such kind-hearted genuine loving help right up to the point where you realize that if you do not get as much of the love when the love is strong it will be almost impossible to follow up and see that the promise is made good in the long run.
You see when sympathy and pity are mixed with empathy one feels such sadness and wishes that he or she can do something to help rid this sorrow. Not necessary the sorrow of those who fell into misfortune but their own sadness. The charitable promise shows a bit of sunlight on the situation and that brings hope which is followed by the expectation of joy. This charitable love most certainly has a time limit because those who do not live within the sorrow only experience it as a third party and after they use charity to mask the sadness with hope they return to their lives and say that it was such a pity; it was too bad that someone else was having a hard time.
So, the pitiful soul having the hard time is filled with hope and is more than welcoming the promised joy yet is not out of the woods of darkness yet. They are standing after falling but have not regained the strength to walk out completely on their own. They reach out to this divine guided benevolent care giver and they can feel as if they must stretch out their arms further than they had before. Instead of grasping the outreached hand as promised, the care giver questions the situation and seems to all of forgotten what they had taken upon themselves to provide. Now instead of love and compassion, they provide a feeling of disappointment.
Disappointment; lets define that as well for the purposes of fully understanding how it applies. Disappointment can be defined as the feeling of sadness or displeasure caused by the nonfulfillment of one’s hopes or expectations. Remember when I said that charity has never been without cost or expectations? So, in this situation where the divine promptings led one to offer to help the other out of the misfortunate situation and to help them over time to get back on their feet so they don’t fall back into that darkness; there were undisclosed expectations that led to disappointments.
The offer seemed so genuine, however; deep within the sympathetic mind of the care giver they established a predetermined expectation that their charitable act was in two parts. One being the act of pulling the other out of the fallen place and the second being just in case the first wasn’t enough. When they learn that the first wasn’t enough they no longer have the feeling of satisfaction that follows the ability to provide charity but instead they feel the blight that follows disappointment. This care giver feelings of sympathy and pity returned to sadness because his or her expectations were not fulfilled. This pity leads to the feeling as if “I already helped once and it really didn’t seem to help at all”.
These are reasons why it can be so difficult to ask for help. In this situation, the person in need prayed to God and someone found out about the hardship and offered to help yet once that charitable feeling escaped they found it more difficult to provide that help. It makes it feel as if someone promised to jump into the depth of the water you were drowning with and pull you back to the surface to breath and assures you that they will toss you a line but when they swim to safety they never return and you are left trying to tread water again in the same depth that tried to swallow you. It would have been better not to have been saved at all than to have to experience the same drowning again
I suppose this is why there seems to be a difference between sympathy and empathy. Sympathy leads one to feel sad themselves for the misfortune of others and they wish to do something to make them feel better and rid themselves from the feeling of sorrow. While empathy is ability to understand and share the feelings of another. If all charity was based on empathy rather than pity then people would give because they understand what the other is going through and they understand what is truly needed to help them. Empathy provides that one shares the feelings of another rather than feeling sadness because of one’s misfortune.
In the end it isn’t that you offered to be sympathetic, compassionate, or show pity towards others. It is whether or not you were empathetic and showed an ability to understand and share the feelings of another. It is that you were charitable because you truly understood what if feels like to be in that situation. It is not that you were charitable but whether you wanted to actually help someone else. Are you really charitable? Are you benevolent meaning are you willing to do good and provide good will because you genuinely care? When you offer acts of charity you should ask yourself what are the cost and expectations that you have placed on that act of pity that if not fulfilled will lead to disappointment and essentially force one not to ask for help again. One who is in dire need of empathetic charity and refuses to ask for such essentially is no different than suicide because there are times that they will certainly drown at least once without the help of others.
We must understand that we are expected to want to be compassionate, sympathetic, and charitable not because we need to lift ourselves up or even build our self-worth but because we are empathic to those who need our help. We need to understand both what it is like to be in that sorrow and more importantly how the benevolent acts make those in need feel. Telling someone you will help them because they need it and you have more than you need is not the same as saying “I want to help you because I needed help from someone once and I understand what you may be going through.” Don’t just swim out to a drowning man just to let him breathe a little easier and then feel your task is complete. While you are telling all how you took the risk to save that poor pitiful man he is beginning to sink all over again.