These days I have been reading and thinking about compassion, sympathy and empathy. The words all share a linguistic root in the Greek pathos (emotion or feeling). Sympathy shares a closer linguistic root with empathy. Sympathy comes from syn + pathos, to have common feelings or emotions. Compassion’s roots pass through Latin, com + passio, to bear with or to suffer the passion of another. They are similar words, but not exact synonyms. Compassion is the broader word: it refers to both an understanding of another’s pain and the desire to somehow mitigate that pain. Sympathy implies that there is already an existing relationship of some nature that draw people together that to share the same emotion or feeling. Empathy is that capacity to understand the emotion or feeling of another even without that already existing relationship. It seems to me the human quality of empathy is foundational to all the others.
This would be an amazing homily. No words, there are single moments of people at the hospital – moments that call us to be aware, to connect – even if only silently in prayer.
This was in hospital, but it could have been your home, your place of work, play or any single moment of life during your day. Moments that call us to connect – even if only silently in prayer; to connect in the home, the workplace, high school, at a friend’s house, on a date, texting on your cell phone, video chatting, posting on your social network – everywhere you encounter people.
We are busy. We are are “safer at home.” Time is limited. Our patience is stretched. We are preoccupied. God calls us to be none of those things. We are called to love God and our neighbor. We are called to the empathic life in grace. To be mindful of people whose life calls out to us, to enter into their life, if but for a moment, for a touch, a smile, a tear, a word, being the presence of Christ in that single moment.
Empathy is that which bridges the chasms in our life.
Empathy is the start of how we love God and our neighbors as our self.