16 Oct 2015

Why Immigrants Need Empathy not Sympathy.

I had just returned from a homeland visit. An acquaintance approached me and I readied myself for the, “I bet you are glad to be back.” Instead the person said,
“It must have been so hard leaving.” I took a step back and fumbled for the handkerchief I knew I would be needing. Amongst my muddle of thoughts there was a cry of 'Eureka someone understands!' I hugged my acquaintance-now-more-of-a-friend. She welcomed the hug because we both knew she had touched me emotionally, and the hug would hide my tears.

Empathy. The understanding of emotions. Sympathy. Feeling sorry for the person. I would rather have empathy any day.
The empathy I was shown:

  • Acknowledged my sadness and made the sadness feel reasonable
  • Didn’t make me feel weak or pathetic
  • Gave me a sense of relief at someone understanding what I was going through.

There is a fine line between empathy and sympathy, and sometimes the terms are misused.
Sympathy makes me feel weak. I don’t want people feeling sorry for me, because:

It makes me feel like I have made a wrong decision to be an immigrant
  • I have burdened them with my sadness.
  • They may be thinking, if it is bad enough to make me sad, I should return to my homeland.
  • I would rather that people understand I am glad about my choices, but there are times when it is difficult or sad.