SYMPATHY_EMPATHY_COMPASSION
BY H. St. VINCENT BEECHEY
These words, Sympathy, Empathy and Compassion, are often confused and used indiscriminately (even the dictionary fails to indicate properly the subtle distinctions between them) but to us, the members of ADARDS, there are very real and important differences. An understanding of these differences may well be a help to us in our task as Carers.
I think the best way to understand the differences is to consider them as levels. The top, and most superficial level, is that of Sympathy. Here, replacing indifference, is a quickening of human feeling, a desire to understand and express concern. Fortunately it is a common human trait and you will encounter it often amongst those who begin to have an awareness of your situation. Let us define it as “FEELING WITH”
Empathy is a feeling at a deeper level. Here the Empathiser attempts to put him/her self in the position of the other person; to feel his feelings, to experience his experience. We can describe empathy as “FEELING AS”.
Compassion is the most profound and complex feeling of the trinity. While it encompasses many of the attributes of its two sisters it has qualities that make it greater and more valuable as a human resource. To oversimplify we can portray it as “FEELING FOR”.

How can we apply this information to our task as carers? We can hope for sympathy from others. We can give it ourselves to those who need it. Indeed we can go further. We can attempt to use empathy in an effort to understand. As an example of this, I would recommend reading that most moving passage that starts chapter one in “The 36Hour Day” by Nancy L. Mace and Peter V. Rabins in which they portray a case history from the point of view of “Mary” an Alzheimer’s sufferer.
When you have read it and wept, as surely all must do, it is time to move on and think about compassion. Let us consider an example that seems far removed from Alzheimer’s Disease. Mother Teresa cradles a dying beggar in Bombay. She knows that he will be dead before morning. The time for sympathy is long past. Empathy will not assuage his suffering. There is nothing she can do but paradoxically she gives her greatest gift Compassion.
Compassion. It is more than Sorrow or Pity. It reduces Sympathy and Empathy to useless gestures yet it is ours to give. Every member of ADARDS has had to come to grips with a hard truth. There are those of us who have railed at Fate, who have questioned God, who have practiced denial in all its forms but we have each of us, at last, faced a Reality not of our choosing. We are still here. You are reading this and you have My compassion. May you give me yours and then let us turn to those for whom we care and we will give them ours.

It is said that Bombay’s dying beggars, even when unconscious, find peace in the compassionate care of Mother Teresa and her helpers. Rest assured that your loved one too will know even when Knowing, or expressing what is known, seems a lost skill. In giving your greatest offering, Compassion, may you receive an equal gift, Peace.

1980