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Mains Practice Questions

  • Q. What is the key difference between sympathy, empathy and compassion? Highlight the role of empathy in shaping leadership. (150 Words)

    26 May, 2022 GS Paper 4 Theoretical Questions


    • Explain what is sympathy, empathy, and compassion.
    • Bring out the difference between the three with suitable examples.
    • Discuss the importance of empathy in leadership.


    Sympathy: It is a feeling and expression of concern for someone, it implies a deeper, more personal, level of concern than pity, a simple expression of sorrow.

    Empathy: Empathy is the ability to understand another person’s experience, perspective, and feelings. It is also called “vicarious introspection,” commonly described as the ability to put yourself in another person’s shoes.

    Compassion: It is an active desire to alleviate another’s suffering’, it involves a sense of empathy however it does not end with it. It invokes sensibilities to understand and even feel the pain of others and motivates one to be truly helpful in overcoming this pain.

    Key differences between the three are:

    • Sympathy and empathy are both acts of feeling, but with sympathy, you feel for the person; you are sorry for them or pity them, but you don’t specifically understand what they are feeling.
    • However, in empathy, to an extent you are placing yourself in that person's place, have a good sense of what he feels and understand his feelings to a degree.
    • Compassion, on the other hand, involves an active desire to alleviate one’s suffering. It is a better indicator of behavior.
    • Empathy is often confused with sympathy and compassion, which are merely a recognition of another person’s distress.
    • Sympathy typically implies that the suffering person does not “deserve” what has happened to him or her and is powerless to do anything about it.
    • Empathy is a skilled response, while sympathy is reactive responses, which is why developing the skill of empathy is a more realistic goal for public services.
    • Empathy seems to suggest a response to situations whose features are more subtle, imperceptible and complex which require cognitive skills to perceive, share, understand and put into action.

    Role of empathy in leadership

    • Empathy makes an individual more patient keeping his temper under check. Ex: When an official is on inspection duty, he needs to understand and listen to people’s problems before arriving at a conclusion.
    • A good leader thinks about the welfare of people. Her/his decisions should be directed towards improving the lives of his people. Thus empathy plays an important role in ensuring a kind and welfare centric approach. Ex: A public official needs to be empathetic towards problems faced by women for collecting drinking water so as to make the necessary arrangements.
    • Empathy leads to the acceptability of diverse thoughts: Working across cultures requires leaders to understand people who have very different perspectives and experiences. Empathy generates interest in and appreciation for others, paving the way to more productive working relationships.
    • Empathy helps leaders in understanding how someone feels or considers the effects of the decisions on his subordinates and the larger public. Thus it helps in generating a middle ground and allowing time for compassionate reflection and response.
    • In a diverse country where many are poverty-stricken empathy would enable public servants to work with dedication.
    • Eg: Armstrong Pame an IAS officer raised 40 lakh rupees through social media without government aid because of empathy towards the public who had no road connectivity in their village.

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