A Lesson From Middle School

Way back when, maybe in middle school, we learned the difference between the two words empathy and sympathy. Prior to that, sympathy was our go-to word. But then we understood that empathy was an option—that we could truly identify with the feelings, thoughts, and attitudes of another. Sympathy is always an option, but empathy is not. Good to know, right?

What we didn’t know in middle school was that many years later, there would be a global pandemic as well as a nationwide spotlight on systemic racism. And now our understanding of empathy versus sympathy is going to go far beyond how to properly use those words in a sentence. It is going to unequivocally define us as a person and a leader.

Empathy is far from being an immutable trait, it can be developed. It makes us better leaders, family members, and friends. So how do we become more empathetic? How do we get to know how someone else feels? It’s actually quite simple: ask them. We need to add just one word to our everyday question of, “How are you?” Try this, “How are you — really?” And let that “really” part come from the depths of your heart. Connection and compassion are more critical than ever before, so ask the question, “How are you—really?” Empathy starts with caring enough to begin the conversation. 

With Gratitude,

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1 Comment

  1. David Schuchman

    Middle school for me started in 1972. I grew up in a primarily white community and do not recall any significant discussions in school about the civil rights movement. “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” Maybe some history was overlooked?


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