The Art of Empathy
Part of what you are learning through practicing martial arts is something called mindfulness. Martial Arts teaches you to be mindful of your body- because you need to be strong, limber and healthy to practice, but it should also teach you to be mindful of others.
You have opponents, maybe you spar in class and have a physical opponent or you’re in a club at school and have a rival club or even a member of your own class. You need to be mindful of them and what they affect in your life. The art of empathy, and also the compassionate use of sympathy, are two ways to cultivate mindfulness of others that will help you practice the spirit of martial arts and will help you every day when interacting with other people.
Both empathy and sympathy are feelings regarding other people, but how you experience them and how they apply to others set them apart from one another.
How To Sympathize
Sympathy is when you feel bad for the situation another person is in. You don’t necessarily have to know how the other person is feeling or need to have been in the same sort of situation in order to sympathize. Have you ever said ‘I’m sorry’ when someone has gone through a bad experience, even if you had nothing to do with it? That is a form of sympathy, where you feel bad that someone else is going through something negative, even if you’ve never had to go through anything like it yourself.
How To Empathize
On the other hand, empathy is you not only feel bad for another person’s problem, but you also understand and feel the same way another person is feeling. If you’ve ever lost a pet or had a fight with your friend and then saw someone else going through the same problem you might remember how it felt when you had to go through that situation as well. That’s Empathy. It’s the ability to feel what someone else is feeling because you understand the situation from experience.
When you practice Martial Arts you are learning how to defend yourself from others and to stand up for what’s right, but you should also learn through experience how to feel sympathy towards others and also empathize with other people, even when they’re your opponents. If you’ve ever gone to a tournament or played in a sport, you know how good winning feels and how bad losing feels. Instead of being a sore loser or winner, remember that you know how good it feels when you win and graciously accept the other’s right to feel happy, just as they should accept your right not to feel happy to have lost.
Sometimes it’s enough to be sympathetic- to acknowledge someone else is feeling badly about something- but we should always try to use our empathy to understand how a person might be feeling. When we practice empathy, we are looking for ways to understand someone else’s situation so that we can understand it through our own actions and experiences.