If someone you loved had fallen down a well what would you do to rescue them? Would you call for help and wait with them, offering words of encouragement until the emergency services arrived, or would you take more of a participatory role in the rescue, and go and find a rope that you would then use to hoist them out of the hole? Regardless of which one of these approaches you favoured, one thing that you would probably not do is jump into the well to be with them. Taking this step you would not be able to help them much. Being just as stuck as they are, you would also require the assistance of skilled helpers before you and your loved one could be returned safely to the surface.
Adding to your loved one’s problem, you have not really done the right thing by them even though your intentions may have been good. Better would they have been served if you remained in a position of strength at the top of the well. Using this strength for their benefit, they can rise up and beyond the circumstances that previously immobilized and isolated them. Grabbing their hand and pulling them to freedom they reap the rewards of empathy which promise much more than any act of sympathy can hope to deliver.
Although they are often confused for each other, empathy and sympathy are not the same thing. While the latter focuses on the negative emotions that one is experiencing, the former focuses on understanding the person and taking the journey with them. Sometimes this is extraordinarily difficult because we may not have experienced what another has. Limited in this respect, we are however capable of opening our hearts to enter the inner world of another. Doing this in the spirit of unconditional love, acceptance and understanding, we can lend others our strength, faith and resilience, and help them to overcome in moments of weakness or pain.