Empathy is the act of understanding thoughts and feelings of another individual and responding in a way that meets the needs of both communicators. To empathize means to “feel with” another individual. It is different from sympathy, in that sympathy maintains one’s own perspective while seeking to console another. Empathy, on the other hand, steps into another individual’s awareness or emotional state long enough to understand that person. Empathy connects human beings by allowing one to feel and share the emotions of another.

Empathy may very well be the major behavior that most defines us as human. What seems to have begun as an instinctual survival tool has evolved into a sophisticated way of building bonds with others, providing a foundation and the means for expressions of affection, and, ultimately, the ability to understand and get along with individuals vastly different from ourselves.


For a healthy society, the use of empathy may mean looking deeper at the experiences of individuals or cultures with whom we don’t necessarily identity or agree. Remember that we do not have to endorse an action to understand the circumstances and attitudes that brought it about. Such understanding increases the likelihood of better societal decision making.