Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Why Is Sympathy Sweet?

My book, Words for when there are No Words, Writing a Memorable Condolence Note opens with this quote:  
"There is nothing sweeter
 than to be sympathized with."
Written by George Santayana (1863-1952), this philospher, essayist, poet, and novelist had a prolific career. Spanish by birth, he was Harvard educated and continued there as faculty, until retiring to Europe. Some of his students become literary giants: T. S. Eliot, Robert Frost, Gertrude Stein, Horace Kallen, Walter Lippmann, and W. E. B. Du Bois.


Why is sympathy sweet?

  • Sympathy can be a calming experience for both the giver and receiver.
  • Even simple mishaps can be less annoying when someone says, "oh, too bad."
  • Sympathy is a unifying experience: we feel less alone (you never see just one jellybean!)

Sympathy does not require empathy.

  • Empathy can occur when you understand what others are feeling because you have experienced it yourself. 
  • When writing a condolence note, it is important to steer clear of "I know how you feel" expressions if you have not had that same loss.
  • In my book, Key Comfort #8 describes the tool of sharing a parallel experience.  If you are truly a peer to the loss, you have a valuable sensitivity. Just remember that 'loss of an apple' is not the same as 'loss of an orange' and suggesting they are, may not be well received.
  • I still have the pleasure of a living mother and father, and so my condolence about such a loss is sympathetic, not empathetic. 
  • I remark on the gravity of losing a mother or father by commenting, "it is a powerful relationship, and we only have one [mother/father]." I may go on to write, "while I cannot really know how you feel, when the day comes that am in your shoes, I think I will be heartbroken."
As you read more of my posts--and my book (available to download here,) you will begin to develop the instincts and the heart for crafting a memorable condolence note. 

Thank you for caring.
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