Today Matters » “What is the difference between sympathy and empathy?”

“What is the difference between sympathy and empathy?”

Sympathy vs EmpathyI think one thing everyone can agree on is that there is A LOT going on in our country right now. In looking for common ground on how to grapple with this, whether that be the proliferation of election news, dealing with the impacts of a global pandemic, or just simply the general feeling of unrest, it led me to do a little reading and reflecting. What I found caused me to ponder an interesting question:


“What is the difference between sympathy and empathy?”


Honestly, until recently, I don’t know if I really gave much thought to the difference between the two. Simply put, sympathy is when we have common feelings for and with someone else. Sympathy suggests that we share feelings because we too have experienced something similar. Empathy on the other hand is quite different. Empathy implies that we have the capacity to imagine the feelings of someone else, but that we, ourselves, have not actually had a similar experience.


What an interesting difference. Both are important, but there comes with it an understanding that our experiences often lead us to different destinations.


What a great reminder for our wonderfully unique students as well. Each and every single one of our individual learners will attend our schools and live a different life afterwards. We need to not only prepare them to be lifelong learners, but to firmly understand how to both sympathize and empathize for those in the world around them.


I envision a push and pull. We push students to academic excellence, challenging them with rigorous content that they themselves might not even realize they can master. We do this as we pull them close to support them, scaffolding in resources where necessary, leading with relationship and tenderness, and then pushing them again to excel. We do this because of our capacity to both sympathize and empathize with the challenges of growing up as an adolescence in our current world. This recipe might just be the solution to preparing our children for the world that awaits them.


Forest Ridge School District 142, as our motto states, is a place “Where Children Always Come First!”



Paul McDermott