When you search for empathy on Google, you get almost 10,000,000 results. When you search for sympathy on Google, you get almost 25,000,000 results. I bet if we could look at historical search results in Google, I bet that we’d see a big trend where the number of search results for empathy has been increasing. The closest thing we can do to this is a search of all the books that contain the word empathy (at least the ones that have been digitized by Google). How? Using Google’s Ngram Viewer.
The chart above shows the mentions of empathy and sympathy starting in 1800 and ending in 2008. As we can see, empathy was hardly mentioned at all when compared to sympathy until the 1920s. That makes me wonder if there might have been some writings about empathy around the time of the Great Depression. What’s noteworthy though, is the steady increase in mentions of empathy. Granted, it’s still in only a fraction (0.0005%) of books, but it’s still progress.
Sympathy, on the other hand, we can see has steadily declined since the early 1900s. However, there’s been a small blip in sympathy since the mid-2000s. I would guess that this may have to do with the title question of this post: the difference between sympathy and empathy.
There’ve probably been several books written about the differences between empathy and sympathy in the last 5 or 10 years. So, do you know the difference between the two? I have to admit, even as an undergraduate in psychology, I’d often find myself googling the difference between the two terms. About a month ago, I came across a great video from the RSA that quickly explains the difference between empathy and sympathy. Of course, there’s a slight bias towards empathy in the video, but I think you’ll agree — empathetic is far better than sympathetic.
In case you’re inspired to be a champion of empathy or want some more information about programs that are helping to increase the level of empathy, I’d suggest checking out Ashoka: Empathy.
And if you want a bit more information about how empathy has shaped our society and continues to shape it, then I highly recommend checking out the RSA Animate video of Jeremy Rifkin’s book, The Empathic Civilization:
Posted in Education, Health, History, Wisdom
Tagged Ashoka, Brené Brown, Empathy, Fresh Perspective, Google Ngram, Jeremy Rifkin, RSA, RSA Animate, Sympathy, The Empathic Civilization, The Power of Empathy
I’ve mentioned before that I’m working at Ashoka for the summer. As I don’t currently live in Rossyln, I take the Metro to get to work. As I don’t yet have an iPhone or an iPad (with which to read something on), I’ve kept my subscription to The Economist. As I was reading last week’s issue, I got to an article from Schumpeter called, “No Rush: In Praise of Procrastination.”
At first, I was a bit skeptical, but as I read on, it may me think of the post I recently wrote about general managers and JP Morgan. Here’s an excerpt from the Schumpeter article [emphasis added]:
But is it wise to be so obsessed with speed? High-speed trading can lead to market meltdowns, as almost happened on May 6th 2010, unless automatic breaks are installed. And is taking one’s time so bad? Regulators are always warning people not to buy things in the heat of the moment. Procrastinators have a built-in cooling-off period. Businesses are forever saying that they need more creativity. Dithering can help. Ernest Hemingway told a fan who asked him how to write a novel that the first thing to do was to clean the fridge. Steven Johnson, a writer on innovation, argues that some of the best new products are slow hunches. Nestlé’s idea of selling coffee in small pods went nowhere for three decades; now it is worth billions.
These thoughts have been inspired by two (slowly savoured) works of management theory: an obscure article in the Academy of Management Journal by Brian Gunia of Johns Hopkins University; and a popular new book, Wait: The Art and Science of Delay, by Frank Partnoy of University of San Diego. Mr Gunia and his three co-authors demonstrated, in a series of experiments, that slowing down makes us more ethical. When confronted with a clear choice between right and wrong, people are five times more likely to do the right thing if they have time to think about it than if they are forced to make a snap decision. Organisations with a fast pulse (such as banks) are more likely to suffer from ethical problems than those that move more slowly. (The current LIBOR scandal engulfing Barclays in Britain supports this idea.) The authors suggest that companies should make greater use of cooling-off periods or introduce several levels of approval for important decisions.
I fine this rather on-point with what I was saying in the General Managers article. By having more layers of approval (by way of the general managers), there would, undoubtedly, be more time factored into the process. As a result, this *may* result in less of the instances of poor decision-making that what we’ve seen recently with companies like Barclay’s and JP Morgan.