Sympathy vs. Empathy

When it comes to cards, the 'sympathy' genre is well established. But well established doesn't necessarily mean it is doing its job well. For me, any way, sympathy cards really only target loss, mostly death, and then a generic I'm sorry message. There is a place for this. There always will be. But why is it that sympathy cards aren't enough? And what can an empathy card offer that makes it so much more valuable?

Firstly, let's look at the difference between sympathy and empathy. I love doing this kind of stuff; stepping back and looking at what each word really means, not just our contextual understanding, and then appreciating the deeper meaning that can be conveyed through it's use.

The formal meaning of sympathy, paraphrased, is the sharing of feelings between two or more people. Whereas empathy is an actual psychological identification of another's feelings or thoughts. My own contextual understanding of the two is that sympathy says "I feel sad for you..." whereas empathy says "I feel sad with you..." Empathy is vicarious; it's really feeling and appreciating what another person is going through, rather than feeling sad for the fact that someone is struggling.

Sympathy is not a bad word or sentiment. But just imagine empathy as an extended version of the word. It's taking it one step further and saying, I feel your pain. You don't need to understand it, but you feel it. I almost see sympathy as a little stand offish; at arms length. There is a distance with sympathy. Whereas empathy is a warm hug.

That's why empathy cards are an important category that has close to no representation in the traditional card world. We need something more than "I'm sorry" or various expressions of sadness over loss. If we want to be overly sensitive about the issue, we could almost argue that a death or loss is the measure for a sympathy card, not anxiety or sadness or miscarriage or divorce. But I'm sure I'm over thinking it.

It is really pleasing to see independent card makers creating all kinds of cards; ones that convey our real relationships and our real emotions. And there is so much variety; humour, puns, filthy ones. What I have tried to bring to the table is a range of cards that speak directly to the recipient; the statements are safe, meaningful and exactly what they want to hear. 

They're a warm hug in a card. Something that really says I'm sad with you and I feel your pain...I'm here. Just good, old fashioned empathy.


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