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OW SERIES: Day 17 – Learning the different kinds of “pathy”

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In the middle of working on my next conference “How to pass on a difficult message with respect and kindness?”, I’m interested in testing out your knowledge on the different forms of “pathy”: empathy, sympathy, antipathy and apathy.

If a friend says to me: “Adrien, I’m afraid that the lockdown will last for a long time” and I answer: “you have no reason to worry, it will end one day”, what kind of “pathy” is that and why?

The right answer is quite counter-intuitive (and that’s the whole point of the question). It is an example of antipathy: my friend shares his fear with me and I “counter” his emotion by telling him that it is not legitimate. I listened to him but I neither understood nor helped him. What can be learned from this riddle? A few things:

  • You can adopt an antipathetic stance with good intentions. Antipathy is neither violence nor aggression.
  • Listening is not enough if we are not able to recognize the other person’s emotions as legitimate.
  • There is often a fine line between sympathy and antipathy.
  • We should be lenient towards others. It’s not always easy to be empathetic and it’s easy to become benevolently antipathic.

Some examples of other forms of pathy:

  • Sympathy: I understand that you’re scared. It’s true that the situation is quite terrifying. We are not out of the woods yet (listened, understood but not helped).
  • Apathy: Do you know if the shop will be open on Sunday morning? (not listened to, not understood, not helped).
  • Empathy: I can see that you’re afraid and that’s normal in a situation like this. It’s true that the near future is rather uncertain. But you have always been able to face difficulties in the past. You have the qualities to succeed, and if you have any concerns you can count on me to help you. (Listened, understood, helped).

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By Adrien Chignard

Adrien Chignard, Occupational Psychologist, Sens & Coherence

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