12 December 2013

Empathy and sympathy

I’ve been writing for a while now about how we need to be supporting the development of empathy in Christian community, not simple sympathy. I think sometimes, for instance, that when it looks like Jesus is pointing to something inexplicable in a parable, it is because our sympathy is being ignited in the story he tells, rather than our empathy. God acts out of empathy — and we don’t understand that.

Why do the workers who work only at the end of the day get paid the same amount as the group who worked the whole day (Matthew 20)? I would argue that God’s empathy is being demonstrated, and we don’t “get” that.

I haven’t always been able to explain the distinction easily. Here’s a lovely little animation that gets at at least some of it.

This entry was posted on Thursday, December 12th, 2013 at 8:15 am. You can follow any responses to this entry through this RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

2 Comments to “Empathy and sympathy”

  • gsimpson says:

    Mary, I love this animation. Six or seven years ago I read Lynn Hunt’s fabulous INVENTING HUMAN RIGHTS for a project I was doing with the ELCA on the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which is why Human Rights Day is Dec. 10. Hunt’s first chapter, “Torrent of Emotion” argues that the creating, writing, and reading of epistolary novels brought about what I have now come to call “the rise of expansive empathy,” a notion that I have been using in conjunction with solidarity, communio and a missional ecclesiology of congregrations as public companions with God in global civil society. Political theorist Michael Morell has written a provocative book on EMPATHY AND DEMOCRACY, in which he traces the research on empathy over the last 100 years and offers his own integrated theory and empathy’s significance for deliberative forms of democracy. In addition to the the new science of empathy there’s a historical component with Eleanor Roosevelt and Jane Addams that I’m hoping to add to the mix in the future.

  • btruax001 says:

    “What makes something better is connection.” Thanks for the introduction to RSA Shorts and this tool! What a great reminder to start my day!

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