During one of the recent motivational talks to a gathering of MBA students at Pune, one of the student asked me the difference between sympathy and empathy. I am sure majority of those who are reading this article will know the difference and shall be able to explain beautifully.
While going to your office, you come across a person who is hungry and is begging on the roadside. You feel sympathetic towards him and immediately take out your lunch box and handover two parathas to him. You can see the relief on the face of the person begging while accepting parathas from you. God gave you the opportunity to do a small act of benevolence early morning. You performed a noble act because you felt pity on that poor beggar and a strong urge of sympathy engulfed you and the next noble step followed.
You land up at your office and after sometime, Sunil, one of your junior employee comes to you with an application in his hand for one week leave next month for his sister’s marriage. You look at your calendar and realise that there is a lot of busy schedule during that week. A lot of consignments have to be delivered during that period. You tell Sunil that it was not possible to give leave for one week and he should be happy with just one day leave on the day of marriage of his sister. Sunil becomes furious and questions you, “Sir, what are you talking? It is not a marriage in the court. It is an Indian marriage. I have to make all the arrangements. And you know that my father is bed ridden. And she is my only sister and I am her only brother. It is me who has to make all the arrangements.”
As a manager, for you the commitment of the company is more important. Individuals are secondary. As your employee raises his voice, you also become angry and tell him to get out. Sunil tries to do some further reasoning with you but you shoe him off saying, “Don’t waste my time. I have a lot of things to do. ”Your boss sitting in the next cabin could listen to some of this heated discussions. He calls you to his cabin after about half an hour. By that time you had cooled down to some extent. He asks you what happened and you narrate the full story how that employ named Sunil behaved today morning. You try to justify your action to your boss with all the logic how tight schedule is expected to be there during that particular week. Despite that you had agreed to give one day leave to Sunil for his sister’s marriage.
You thought that your boss will pat you for your commitment to the company. But your boss was not amused. He orders two cups of tea to have a peaceful discussions with you. He asked you, “Pandey ji: Just think if it was your sister’s marriage? ………(Long Pause) It is not the marriage in Europe or USA. It is a typical Indian marriage in UP in a small town and that too of a girl. Put yourself in Sunil’s shoes and then feel if one day leave was good enough.” You are speechless.
“One week is the bare minimum Sunil has asked” continued your boss.
“But Sir, our consignments have to go during that week and Sunil has to do a lot of paper work,” you try to give some reasoning for your action.
“Come on Pandey! What are you talking? We have more than 100 employees. You mean to say that nobody else can take a bit of additional responsibility and do what Sunil was expected to do.”
You don’t have any answer. You start realising your mistake.
“Now go back to your cabin and call Sunil after one hour and approve 10 days leave” boss gave the directive. You learnt the best lesson of your life.
This is called empathy. Putting yourself in the shoes of others and then try to feel how you would behave if you were in that position. So whenever, there is a conflict between two individuals, just pause for a moment. Have empathy for the other person and think from his/her point of view. You will immediately get the solution. Just think of Sunil when he gets 10 days leave instead of 7. His loyalty and commitment will increase manifold.
Sometimes, some people become totally inconsiderate to the needs of other people. They use their official position to cause discomfort inlieu of serving them. They forget that rules and bye-laws are made for helping people and not to put hurdles. They get intoxicated with the power they yield by virtue of their position. I know of a person who on becoming the president of an RWA starting wielding his stick on the guards, gardeners and the maintenance staff in a very crude and cruel manner. He increased the charges for dhobhi’s ironing services from Rs 300/- pm to Rs 500/- pm to generate more income for the RWA without increasing the rates for the ironing of clothes which were static for last two years.
The poor press wallahs literally cried as their monthly net income is hardly Rs 5000/-. When some residents with noble intentions approached this so called president of the society to show some empathy for these poor people, his reply was curt and totally refused to even listen to them. Some of these press wallahs used to come early morning and clean the cars of some of the residents to boost their monthly meagre income by about two or three thousand rupees. This RWA president asked them that they can’t do two jobs. Any logic? I didn’t find any. The other residents were also clueless for such action that amounts to snatching the livelihood of poor people.
So there are people who don’t have this word ‘Empathy’ in their dictionary. Obviously, something is lacking in their value system. We all must do introspection. If we find that because of any reason or because of any of our decision somebody is getting inconvenienced, let us pause and see if it can be avoided. The goal of our life should be to contribute to the society, spread harmony and not be rigid on trivial matters.
I am reminded of what our teacher Mr Shiv Nath Sharma ji at Govt High School at Jammu taught us one day. His teaching got permanently etched in my mind and I have always followed it in letter and spirit. He told us one day that we should never fight with a person who is weaker than us. There is no fun, no joy in that. He is already weaker than you and you can crush him in no time. If you want to fight, do it certainly but with people who are stronger than you or at least equal to you. There will be some joy in winning against a stronger opponent with a lot many bruises that you will also get. Fighting against the weaker, the poor, the incapable is cowardice.
They say that the trees also bend when they bear fruits. As we grow in our life in stature or in wealth, we should become more and more humble. We should cultivate an attitude of gratitude and thank God for whatever He has given us. We should wear the ornament of forgiveness always on our collar. It is a great virtue. Anytime, any doubt, just embrace empathy. Put yourself in the feet of others, do introspection and then take the next step. Life will become happier and that should be the ultimate goal.