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‘I can help you… I just need a ladder’

Many people use the words Empathy, Sympathy and Compassion interchangeably, yet each word has a different meaning.

Imagine yourself walking along and you come across a big hole.

Inside there is someone who appears to be stuck down this hole and can't get out.

Someone who is 'sympathetic' would see them there and would understand their plight, but would not necessarily be able to do anything about it.

Someone who was 'empathetic' would actually fall down the hole - they would feel the other person's pain, but would not be able to do anything about it because they too were in the hole!

Only the person who can help is the 'compassionate' one. This person not only understands and empathises, but can and does actually help the other. Note, they don't get into the hole themselves, they give the other person a ladder!

All this may best summed up by a quote from Booker T. Washington's 'Up From Slavery'

So much of the media and politicians these days misuse these words - either intentionally or not - and the result is a lot of confusion and misunderstanding.

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