By Fred Kofman
Philosopher and Vice President at Linkedin
“Empathy without sympathy is dangerous; sympathy without empathy is blind.”
The world that appears to your eye is the world that appears to your “I.”
The first person perspective reveals to you how things show up for you. To truly experience this perspective as a perspective you need to distinguish your Self (the subject of consciousness) from your self (the object of consciousness) identify with the former and dis-identify from the latter. Only then your subjective experience becomes your truth as opposed to the truth.
The world that appears to my eye is the world that appears to your “You.”
The second person perspective reveals to you how things show up for me. To truly experience this perspective you need to let your Self step out of your self (an object of consciousness for your Self) and take the place of my self (another object of consciousness for your Self).
The first person perspective yields self-awareness; the second person perspective yields empathy.
Empathy means “feeling into” — the ability to project ones personality into another person and more fully understand that person. Empathy allows you to imagine what it’s like to be me, him, or her.
Empathy is cognitive. It is the capacity to infer how another person senses, feels and thinks. It doesn’t mean anything more than ‘I am aware what it feels like to be in your shoes and see the world from where you are.’ It is a purely operational concept without moral value. You can be a very empathetic psychopath. In fact, the most dangerous psychopaths are highly empathetic.
If you want to control another person, you need to understand how they will react to your manipulation. For example, in a negotiation where you don’t care at all about your counterpart and are just trying to extract as much gain as possible, you might consider empathetically, “What if I were in his shoes?” “What would there be in this negotiation for ‘me’?” “What would ‘I’ want?” “What outside options would ‘I’ have?” “What would be ‘my’ BATNA, or best alternative to a negotiated agreement?”
Chess players do this all the time. They try to get into each other’s heads but not to help one another but to beat one another. Psychopaths are like chess players that consider people like their pawns.
Healthy empathy requires the complement of sympathy.
Sympathy means “feeling with” – the ability to project another person’s experience into our heart and feel benevolence for her. Sympathy allows you to feel compassion and concern for others.
You can’t relate effectively until you see the world the way others do. But to relate effectively with another human being you also need sympathy. You cannot appreciate others in a mature way until you respect them, accept the legitimacy of their perspectives and take them on sympathetically.
Mature relationship entails respect and support for those who see the world differently. This taxes your selfish impulse to be right, the desire to ground your self-esteem in being right and having the truth. Transcending self-centricity is a developmental challenge that opens the door for mature care.
As you transcend your self-centricity, you grow to a more inclusive perspective that enables genuine care. Mature caring entails the desire and commitment to support the other’s growth and well being for his or her sake—rather than as an object of mygratification. The Greeks called this kind of care “agape,” the Buddhists called it “metta,” we call it “loving kindness.”
To access these transcendent dimensions of love, it is essential to go beyond the attachment of the Self to the first person perspective (which I called “arrogance,” in this series). It is also essential to develop your sympathy for others as a basic stance in life.
Unless you can empathize and sympathize with the other, unless you can feel what it would take for him or her to be happy regardless of whether that makes you happy, you cannot relate maturely.
Empathy is the cognitive condition adult relationships; sympathy is the emotional one.
In the following video you can find a more detailed explanation of the second perspective:
Find more exercises related to mindfulness at work here.