American Consequences - February 2019

Whether you’re sympathetic or empathetic can make a big difference in business. (And, of course, in the rest of life.) Especially if you’re neither and treat everybody like a cat treats an injured mouse – you’ll end up eating cat food. Sympathy and empathy are both good. But one is not necessarily better, ethically, than the other. Modern moralizing tends to favor empathy over sympathy. The sympathetic formulation, “Our thoughts and prayers are with you,” is mocked. More to current taste in virtue is the empathetic saying – often cited as originating in a wise Native American aphorism – “Never judge someone until you’ve walked a mile in his shoes.” That, however, is not always an act of kindness. As the comedian Emo Philips says, “Never judge someone until you’ve walked a mile in his shoes. That way, when you do judge him, you’re a mile away and you have his shoes.”

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February 2019

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