Compassion and empathy are two things I value very dearly in life. In fact, I think they are some of the most important things we should be teaching and modeling for our students. Yet they are very different. Read the following definitions below (gleaned from Dictionary.com)
Compassion: a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow FOR another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering.
Empathy: the intellectual identification WITH or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another.
The two capped words speak volumes to the difference. While it is crucial to think compassionately, it is essential to practice empathy. Compassion is a much more passive activity. It is a feeling for somebody, a recognition of one's struggles. Yes this may affect decision making and lead to action, but it is not as powerful as empathy. Empathy calls for people to actually try and experience the feelings and thoughts of a particular person or group. The best way of putting this is walking a mile in their shoes. Empathy is a call to intimately place yourself in the mind and heart of another person. If this is really done, it has the unmistakable ability to foster action and critical thought to complex problems. Thus, it is one of the reasons I think it is necessary to teach for empathy. To better prepare our future leaders to confront issues we can't even comprehend, I want empathy to be at the forefront of their thoughts and actions. This may be idealistic, but yet it makes me hopeful and excited. A world full of empathetic people and leaders is a world in which change is not possible, it is expected.