Today’s post is in response to today’s Daily Prompt
Sympathy, as defined by thefreedictionary.com:
1. A feeling of pity or sorrow for the distress of another; commiseration. See Synonyms at pity.
2. often sympathies An expression of such feeling: offered her sympathies to the mourning family.
[Latin sympathīa, natural affinity, fellow feeling, from Greek sumpatheia, from sumpathēs, affected by like feelings : sun-, syn- + pathos, emotion; see kwent(h)- in Indo-European roots.]
Sympathy, as defined by my mother:
“If you’re looking for sympathy, you’ll find it in the dictionary between shit and syphilis”
My mother was one of the kindest people I’ve ever known. She had a huge soft heart which was full of love and laughter, so when she told me to “look it up in the dictionary”, I was surprised.
In retrospect, I’m sure I deserved the snarky response. I have no doubt that I tested my mother’s patience on a daily basis, and my brother will be quick to tell you that I managed to give her shingles. I was a bit of a teen age drama queen. Not that I’d ever admit to it. (dammit, I just did, didn’t I?).
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – my mother was an amazing woman. Not perfect (is anyone?) but pretty darn close. She was my hero. She taught me a lot. She taught me that strangers are simply friends you haven’t yet met. She taught me the importance of “please” and “thank you” and the difference between “y’all” and “all y’all”*. Mostly she taught me that kindness costs nothing – that sympathy and compassion are not a sign of weakness.
As strange as it sounds, I’m glad that my mother’s not here. She would be heartbroken by the bigotry and hatred that are so prevalent lately. Other than offering sympathy at a time of loss, we seem to have lost the ability to sympathize for anyone who is different from ourselves. The wealthy have no sympathy for the poor, the homeowners turn away from the homeless, and race relations seem to be a thing of the past (Literally. Race relations seem to have returned to those from the 50’s).
We need to remember that being sympathetic to another’s plight doesn’t mean that you are releasing them from accountability for their situation. I have a friend who is always complaining about her health/weight, yet refuses to change her diet or exercise plan. As someone who used to eat ice cream for breakfast (hey, I was ahead of my time, as this study shows) I sympathize with her, even while I hold her responsible for her actions. I have another friend who is always complaining that she’s overwhelmed and sleep deprived, and yet, she’s the first to raise her hand when they call for volunteers, Oh, wait. That’s me. I’m perfectly aware that I need to learn the “n-word” and yet, I refuse to do so (Will you sympathize with me, or should I pick up my dictionary?)
We need to get off our current path of violence and hatred. To do that, we need to learn to sympathize with people we might not agree with – to communicate compassionately.
In a perfect moment of synchronicity, this article from sonima.com on communication dropped into my newsfeed this morning. In it, Sonima’s psychologist and meditation teacher John Rettger offers a 3-step plan and guided meditation for compassionate communication. He instructs that we should “do this from a place of empathy, compassion, and authenticity. You can connect to these qualities by taking space to remember what nearly all humans are seeking: To be loved, held with kindness, and accepted.”
Perhaps then, sympathy is not enough. We need to empathize with one another – to support without judgement.
Or, as Steve Martin says:
“Before you criticize a man, walk a mile in his shoes. That way, when you do criticize him, you’ll be a mile away and have his shoes.”
I know we can do this – if we can offer Sympathy for the Devil we can sympathize with ANYONE
*For those of you who are not Southerners, “ya’ll” is singular. and “all y’all” is plural.
So – tell me – what is your definition of sympathy, and who do you have a hard time sympathizing with?