Ifat Glassman

Who has it easier to say what's on his heart

63 posts in this topic

The prefix "sym" means "with" and thus sym-pathy means "feeling with". So sympathy involves not only an awareness but also sharing another's state. I understand this as placing oneself in their "shoes" and experiencing how one would feel in that situation. So, the object of sympathy is feeling.

It has been my experience on more than one occasion that when people start having feelings themselves, at least to some degree, this moment starts to be also about them. Their focus is shifted or at best diffused.

Empathy, on the other hand, can be translated as "feeling into." It involves an ability to comprehend/understand another's state without directly experiencing that state. One is more likely to keep the perspective of another and their focus, at that moment, on them.

Wouldn't one's first attempt to help a friend with emotions unfamiliar to you have to be done through sympathy rather than empathy? By what process could you understand their emotions without experiencing them yourself?

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The prefix "sym" means "with" and thus sym-pathy means "feeling with". So sympathy involves not only an awareness but also sharing another's state. I understand this as placing oneself in their "shoes" and experiencing how one would feel in that situation. So, the object of sympathy is feeling.

It has been my experience on more than one occasion that when people start having feelings themselves, at least to some degree, this moment starts to be also about them. Their focus is shifted or at best diffused.

Empathy, on the other hand, can be translated as "feeling into." It involves an ability to comprehend/understand another's state without directly experiencing that state. One is more likely to keep the perspective of another and their focus, at that moment, on them.

Wouldn't one's first attempt to help a friend with emotions unfamiliar to you have to be done through sympathy rather than empathy? By what process could you understand their emotions without experiencing them yourself?

Not to answer for Sophia, but if the emotions in question were unfamiliar to you, wouldn't that simply mean that you could have neither sympathy nor empathy?

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Not to answer for Sophia, but if the emotions in question were unfamiliar to you, wouldn't that simply mean that you could have neither sympathy nor empathy?

No, because my understanding of the definitions is that sympathy is how you gain familiarity ("understanding") of someone else's emotions. Sympathy means imagining yourself in their situation, introspecting your emotional reaction, and that way you understand what they must be feeling. Empathy means understanding their emotions without the need for this exercise. I assumed this must mean in the case of empathy that you somehow already know (or believe you know) what they are feeling. Since we have no ability to directly experience the emotions of others, empathy has to be based on prior personal experience. Otherwise I don't see how such understanding is possible.

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Not to answer for Sophia, but if the emotions in question were unfamiliar to you, wouldn't that simply mean that you could have neither sympathy nor empathy?

No, because my understanding of the definitions is that sympathy is how you gain familiarity ("understanding") of someone else's emotions. Sympathy means imagining yourself in their situation, introspecting your emotional reaction, and that way you understand what they must be feeling. Empathy means understanding their emotions without the need for this exercise. I assumed this must mean in the case of empathy that you somehow already know (or believe you know) what they are feeling. Since we have no ability to directly experience the emotions of others, empathy has to be based on prior personal experience. Otherwise I don't see how such understanding is possible.

Okay. I see what you mean.

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Wouldn't one's first attempt to help a friend with emotions unfamiliar to you have to be done through sympathy rather than empathy? By what process could you understand their emotions without experiencing them yourself?

I don't understand how this is a problem in reality. You don't have to personally experience the loss of a child to be able to understand that such occurrence causes pain. Do you? Is there anyone, short of rare pathological cases, past the age of ten who is not yet familiar with all of the possible emotions?

Could you elaborate on what you mean?

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I don't understand how this is a problem in reality. You don't have to personally experience the loss of a child to be able to understand that such occurrence causes pain. Do you? Is there anyone, short of rare pathological cases, past the age of ten who is not yet familiar with all of the possible emotions?

Could you elaborate on what you mean?

In your empathy example, Joe says “you must be feeling pretty scared right now, huh?” Why does he zero in on fear, of all the painful emotions? Why not depression, anger, or self-doubt? Those would also be credible reactions to being fired. All Bob said was that he got fired, he didn’t say how he felt about it yet, but even so Joe demonstrates an understanding of what he’s going through. He had to understand Bob’s situation (including the fact that he owns a home and has a wife and kids to support) to understand what he was feeling. So either he ran that scenario through his head right there, or it’s a situation he understood previously. The first is sympathy, and the second is the only way I can think to explain empathy.

When I said “unfamiliar emotions” I meant within the context of the other person’s situation. A 10-year old may know what it feels like to lose a value when a friend moves away, but that scenario produces a unique blend of emotions. He may feel sad that he won’t get to play with them, but if he chooses he can still communicate in writing or over the phone. Would you say he’s feeling what a parent would feel losing their child?

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He had to understand Bob’s situation (including the fact that he owns a home and has a wife and kids to support) to understand what he was feeling.

And that can't be done intellectually? Furthermore, what you have felt being in a similar situation may not be what Bob if feeling right now and that can even be a bigger factor between the two sexes as we don't experience the world from the same perspective. That is why one should keep their focus on the other person and just listen to what they are saying. There are things which are not possible for the other sex to introspect about - yet we still CAN offer the other the psychological visibility and emotional support they seek at that moment - visibility in the form of understanding that they are distressed even though the exact form of that distress maybe unfamiliar to us.

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And that can't be done intellectually?

How?

Furthermore, what you have felt being in a similar situation may not be what Bob if feeling right now and that can even be a bigger factor between the two sexes as we don't experience the world from the same perspective. That is why one should keep their focus on the other person and just listen to what they are saying. There are things which are not possible for the other sex to introspect about - yet we still CAN offer the other the psychological visibility and emotional support they seek at that moment - visibility in the form of understanding that they are distressed even though the exact form of that distress maybe unfamiliar to us.

Maybe I misunderstood your explanation of empathy. One can give support by listening, but I don't regard that as the same as "understanding another's state". If a friend came to me very upset but didn't communicate very well what happened, I'd be there for them but I wouldn't be able to say that I understood their emotions. I'd understand that they had them, but that's like saying that a man born blind understands that sighted people can sense color. It's not like he can relate to a sighted friend's reaction to a beautiful painting. So as far as gender-specific problems go, I can certainly offer support, but empathy? I don't see how.

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And that can't be done intellectually?

How?

Is grasping Bob's problem (his situation) different from grasping a math equation?

Furthermore, what you have felt being in a similar situation may not be what Bob if feeling right now and that can even be a bigger factor between the two sexes as we don't experience the world from the same perspective. That is why one should keep their focus on the other person and just listen to what they are saying. There are things which are not possible for the other sex to introspect about - yet we still CAN offer the other the psychological visibility and emotional support they seek at that moment - visibility in the form of understanding that they are distressed even though the exact form of that distress maybe unfamiliar to us.

Maybe I misunderstood your explanation of empathy. One can give support by listening, but I don't regard that as the same as "understanding another's state".

State is not only their emotion but also thoughts and current experience.

I don't think that for such understanding you have to have first hand personal experience with that same situation.

If a friend came to me very upset but didn't communicate very well what happened, I'd be there for them but I wouldn't be able to say that I understood their emotions.

Emotions are communicated in many different ways, some of it is non-verbal, so often one may still be able to see that another is angry, or sad, or pissed. The unknown, in this case, would be the source/cause of their distress and not necessarily their emotion itself. The action of understanding the cause is done by your intellect.

I'd understand that they had them, but that's like saying that a man born blind understands that sighted people can sense color.

It is not the same at all. The various emotions are known to you (and there are not that many possibilities) - just situational causes/triggers differ. The sensation of color is completely unknown to a blind man.

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Is grasping Bob's problem (his situation) different from grasping a math equation?

The main difficulty I'm having is what the object of "understand" is in empathic understanding. Could you walk me through what your mind is doing when you empathize with someone?

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Is grasping Bob's problem (his situation) different from grasping a math equation?

The main difficulty I'm having is what the object of "understand" is in empathic understanding. Could you walk me through what your mind is doing when you empathize with someone?

Wouldn't that be like what an actor does? He imagines the situation (say, of loss), or links it to a similar personal event of his own life, and recalls (or beings up) the corresponding feeling, and is then able to say that he knows what the character is feeling?

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Wouldn't that be like what an actor does? He imagines the situation (say, of loss), or links it to a similar personal event of his own life, and recalls (or beings up) the corresponding feeling, and is then able to say that he knows what the character is feeling?

That would fit the definition of sympathy, because it involves you feeling those emotions yourself. Empathy lacks that (as it has been defined here).

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Cabbie touched on an important point (I think) - some people can have personalities or issues with commuication that make it difficult to convey an emotion to another person, even though they may understand it themselves. I'm a little unsure, but assuming this was the point he was trying to make, I agree. I guess I'll have to retract my statement.

Yes that is an aspect of what I was saying. I have male friends that are really open and up front with what they are feeling and are vocal about it, as well as male friends that never let on to their emotional state. It's just about how comfortable you are with sharing your feelings.

And I full-heartedly agree with what Scott A. was saying about intellectualism being an escape. Many people, particularly those that are very new to Objectivism and Ayn Rand's ideas, invariably try to explain away their emotions in a manner that leads to repression and unhealthy habits.

One of the most heart-breaking exchanges I've had with someone relatively new to Objectivism was a girl who was asking me about the nature of happiness then asked me, "But isn't it irrational to be depressed?" Just think about what that question implies. How terrifying is that?

The new young minds we are trying to reach with the philosophy we believe will save the world often get the wrong idea about how they should treat their emotions and how to treat themselves. It's an attitude that I explain as wanting to have the luminous and glowing sense of self-worth and happiness that John Galt possesses but not having the first idea about how to reach it, psychologically. Thus, any feelings of sadness and inadequacy (and even clinical depression) become 'proof' of ones irrationality and not being 'philosophically advanced'. You can see how dangerous this is.

My favorite Objectivist intellectual, Andrew Bernstein, has a perspective on sharing Objectivism with people that emphasizes healthy value-pursuit that I think should be stressed. I think more people would get 'sold' on our philosophy if positive, upbeat attitudes were more visible.

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