I found this video yesterday afternoon. It showed up in my Facebook feed, and I clicked on it. I watched it once, and immediately hit replay. I watched it twice more yesterday evening. I have watched it five more times today. I have had several conversations with close friends over the past few months about this very topic without ever realizing that it was sympathy vs empathy we were discussing. I have received both since my accident. Lots of both.
At first the sympathy was fine. I embraced it. I thought I needed to be on board with it to stay positive. I cannot tell you how many times I have heard, and I’m sure I will continue to hear, “You were incredibly lucky”. “It could have been so much worse”. At least I can walk, at least I am here. I know these facts better than anyone, believe me. And while I am grateful beyond words for those facts, no matter who it was coming from, for some reason it never made me feel much better. Instead it left me feeling confused and asking myself if I’m so lucky why don’t I feel better about what happened? Am I supposed to be having some new lease on life because I was so “fortunate”? I don’t really feel that way at all sometimes. It wasn’t until talking with some truly empathetic friends that I realized something else. I was also incredibly unlucky. My accident was extremely unfortunate, and my injuries are still quite severe despite what could have happened. It is ok to admit that. It feels good to admit that to understanding people. I have learned so much from some very empathetic people lately, and this video has so clearly put into words what I have been experiencing. One of the first statements in the video rings so true “Empathy fuels connection. Sympathy drives disconnection.”
In my current situation sympathy most often comes when I have shared the least about my injury. Sharing my experience is sometimes not my choice. I wear a giant neck and back brace. It is quite obvious that something bad has happened to me. I don’t believe sympathy is necessarily a bad thing, but it does leave me with a feeling of disconnect. Even when I know the person (usually a stranger) is trying to be positive and helpful. “You’re walking! That’s great! You’re so thankful for that I know it, how wonderful for you!” well thank you, complete stranger Rite Aid cashier. Or the farmer at the market: “How much longer ya got in that thing?” Me: “A few months” Farmer: “Well you got a plan?…Yes, at least you’ve got a plan! You stick to that plan!” I know intentions are good, but their sentiments never make me feel any better.
I consider myself a relatively positive person. I am overall grateful that I was not injured worse. I have painted my own silver linings. I look forward to what I will learn and gain from this experience. Today what I am the most grateful for is empathy. Empathy of the people I have shared the most about my accident with. I can’t expect for everyone (or anyone) to understand my exact situation. But the truth is, everyone has suffered and struggled. Everyone at some point has been challenged, and surely many have been in far worse situations than mine at this moment. This accident has made me feel isolated in a lot of ways, but being able to share with some really great people has helped me so much to feel connected. I hope to be able to use my situation in the future to be the type of person who consistently choses empathy over sympathy. Maybe that is my silver lining. And you know what? I came up with that one all on my own…or with the help of this little video 😉