Empathy or Sympathy?

If someone's parent suddenly pass away, it is only natural for the his/her friend to comfort and support him/her in the time of such grief and crisis. This would be the friend’s chance to be empathetic. Yet what is empathy?

The dictionary definition of empathy is “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another”. In simpler terms, empathy is the ability to put oneself in the shoes of those who are experiencing pain. Empathy is one of the most fundamental values needed for society to progress. So, how do individuals go about being empathetic? Below are a few ideas-

Being open-minded:

In order to be empathetic, it is important for a person to put aside their own viewpoints and see the situation from the other person’s point of view. An individual has to embrace the diversity of views in order to learn more about the issues surrounding another person’s ideals rather than pushing their own opinions constantly. Challenging their own prejudices can help them do this.

empathy word cloud for blog copy


Listening to a person talk about his/ her feelings is another step towards showing empathy. In order to do this properly, listeners should ask questions that show that they are interested and want their friend to continue sharing. Not only does this give them an opportunity to learn about an issue they may not be aware of, it also gives their friend a sense of reassurance and comfort.


In order to understand the nuanced emotions and ideas of other people better, individuals should think about how they would feel if they were in other people’s places. Further, sharing similar stories can make people feel more understood and the issues more relatable. Keeping that in mind, care must be taken to ensure that these issues are not being undermined by stating that, “…other people may have it worse.”


Avoid trivializing the Issue:

One of the biggest ways to show empathy is to avoid stating that other people’s problems are unreasonable because there are bigger/ worse issues, thus making them feel worse. Other issues around the world may be worse, but that does not make someone’s problems invalid. Undermining other people’s problems is a detriment to mental wellbeing. Comparing does not equal to empathizing.


Withholding judgment:

This is truly one of the hardest things to practice.  Everyone has their own idea of what is right and wrong. When something/ someone counteracts these preconceived beliefs, it is only natural to judge. In order to be empathetic, we must resist the natural urge to judge by giving others an opportunity to explain their viewpoints, challenging these original prejudices.


The most important way to show empathy is through support, whenever possible. Support can mean many different things. In fact, one can be supportive by doing any of the 5 steps listed above. Support can be something as small as listening and checking up on their mental health. Or it can be something bigger, such as spreading awareness about the issue and spending time with people who are troubled. The most meaningful way to show support is by empathizing, instead of sympathizing, because sympathy does not heal, empathy does. Let us practice more of it.


By Ms. Mariam Zaki

Communications Intern

BRAC Institute of Educational Development 

BRAC University 

event name: 
Play Summit 2018
event location: 


BRAC Centre, Dhaka
BRAC Centre, Dhaka
BRAC Centre, Dhaka


Clowns Without Borders UK (CWB UK) will be visiting FDMN in Cox’s Bazar January 20- February 2, 2

BRAC, in collaboration with ANJI Play China, and supporting partner Tung Wah College, will

Since its inception in 2004, BIED, as a pioneering educational institute, has strived to cater to the public sector as well as to the very vibrant and emerging private sector. Its focus on the diverse areas of courses, researches and other thematic areas make it indeed different and in some ways the only institute that offers these.
Dr. Erum Mariam
Director, BIED

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