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Sympathy, empathy are not the same

By Randy Vining I read an article in the paper last week about a study that showed that acetaminophen may reduce our ability to feel empathy. The author went on to talk about empathy and our society’s lack of it. In the article, the author even explains that we are all different and we have different experiences even if we come from the same background. He goes on to talk about ‘judging’ others by our experiences. By its very definition, we can’t really have empathy for others, especially others who are so completely different in their lifestyles and cultures from us. Empathy is by definition: the feeling that you understand and share another person’s experiences and emotions. It certainly is not surprising that I can’t have empathy for some of those the author mentions in his article like blacks, Asians, homosexuals, transgender, Muslim, poor and northerners because I am none of the above. I have no experience as to what it is like to be any of these. Ok, I was poor once but I found a way to pay my own way to college and got a good job so I am no longer poor. But I still can’t have empathy or relate to those who chose to stay that way. I believe what we can feel is sympathy. Sympathy by definition is the feeling of sorrow or pity for someone else’s misfortune. That I can do. Too often the words empathy and sympathy are used interchangeably and they are not and do not mean the same thing. Merriam Webster defines empathy as ‘the feeling that you understand and share another person’s experiences and emotions.’ Their definition of sympathy is ‘the feeling that you care about and are sorry about someone else’s trouble, grief, misfortune, etc.’ As the author pointed out, we all have different experiences so we really can’t empathize with most people, especially if we have no experience of living in their lifestyle or culture. But we can have sympathy for them even if we don’t agree with the lifestyle or culture they have chosen. God, in His word, is clear that we should love everybody and as such we should sympathize with them if they have chosen the wrong path in life or if they have just had unfortunate experiences. God, in His word, is also clear that we should not accept lifestyles that go against His word. It is not ‘judgement’ if it is clear in God’s word. If you chose to go against God’s word, please forgive me if I have little sympathy. To get back on the subject, I do not believe for a minute that acetaminophen reduces your ability to feel empathy. This liberal university study is only another attempt at making us feel guilty for not understanding other’s experiences because we have not had those experiences. I will say that I prefer Ibuprofen; it works better for me and doesn’t have any effect on my sympathy. Lamar County native Randy Vining lives in Milner and works at the Griffin architectural firm of Manley, Spangler and Smith where he is a specifications writer and lead quality control specialist. He is a licensed kayak fishing guide, specializing in shoal bass adventures on the Flint and Ocmulgee rivers and designs custom fishing kayaks for Old Towne.

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