Empathy, Sympathy and Apathy are the foundations of making and unmaking of relationships.
Empathy is the power of identifying oneself mentally with a person or object. It is the ability to see others as they themselves see. It is stepping oneself in other shoes as only the wearer of the shoes knows where it pinches. One may or may not agree with the other, but allows oneself and the other to be fully themselves and regard each other all the same The French Libertine Philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau once said to his friend that "I may not agree with even a word of what you say, but I will fight to my death your right to say it". This is empathy. Although one may not agree with the other but he will see and understand what the other means and respect the other all the same. This is the sure foundation of any good and lasting interpersonal relationships, - of parents-child, of siblings, of friends, of wedded couples, of teacher-pupil, of leaders and their wards. This is called paraanubhuuti in my Kannada language.
Sympathy is the state of being simultaneously affected with a feeling similar to that of another person, it is a favourable attitude to and an approval of whatever the other person feels and does. It is a sort of agreeing to whatever the other says, often thinking that it would fetch love and approval towards oneself from the other. Yet, it does not happen that way. Although it may fetch a temporary positive relationship, it would not last long. In fact, often it leads to exploitative relationships, people takes one for granted. One is shaped to be ones true selves by the comments, suggestions and reflections of what other truly feel about oneself, in addition to what one experiences within oneself. By agreeing to whatever the other says, hoping that the other would love it, we are in fact helping the other to become what they are not! It is bound to create tension and uneasiness in relationships. Sympathy is sahaanubhuuti.
Apathy is the lack of interest or feeling for others, a total indifference. This of course does not fetch any relationships. This is udaaseenate/niraasakti.
The other day I read a comment in TIME (June 6, 2016) by Michele Borba, an US based educational psychologist and author of 'UnSelfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in our All-About-Me World', on why kids need more empathy, which I reproduce below in full:
"WHAT TRAIT DO KIDS REALLY NEED TO BE happy and successful?" Over the years, hundred of parents have asked me that question. My answer surprises most: empathy. More than acing tests or earning fancy degrees, kids-and adults-who understand and appreciate the people around them are better able to collaborate, innovate and problem-solve. Studies show they are happier too.
Unfortunately in America, we have a serious empathy deficit. I call it the "Selfie Syndrome". Thanks in part to the rise of social media, as well as changes in our culture and parenting styles, today's kids are more self-absorbed than ever; one study estimates narcissism rates among college students are up 58% versus three decades ago. And this has given rise to a culture of bullying, cheating and unhappiness. One in five middle-class students contemplates suicide as a solution to peer cruelty, 70% of college kids admit to cheating in class, and one-third of all college students report having felt so depressed that they had trouble functioning.
Cultivating empathy has traditionally been low on child-rearing to-do lists. (After all, when's the last time you saw a bumper sticker that said PROUD PARENT OF A KIND KID?) But we need to make it a priority, both at home and in schools. At stake if we don't? Everything we hope for in our children's future-and our own".
Empathy contributes to expanding and growing self in oneself and others, and love for others as they are.