At the end of the year I would like to talk to you about the difference between sympathy and empathy. We Germans (it seems to me) have a lot of sympathy but little empathy. And that makes it hard for us to respond appropriately to “strangers.”
What is sympathy? Sympathy means being kind to another person. to wish her or him well.
What is empathy? Empathy means understanding another person. Recognizing what motives, values and goals drive this person.
Those are two different things. Many Germans have sympathy, but few Germans have empathy.
Basically there are four possible combinations, but these are very unequally distributed in the population. The first combination is the most common:
Someone has sympathy but little empathy. An example are many good people who donated food and clothing at the beginning of the Ukraine war. They wished the Ukrainians well – that’s why they donated. But in their subconscious they equated “refugee” with “poor” even though they are two different things. They lacked empathy: an understanding of what the Ukrainians themselves wanted and needed: night vision goggles, bulletproof vests, winter camouflage suits, etc.
The second combination is the most dangerous: empathy without sympathy. These are, for example, those politicians who incite right-wing radicals. They understand perfectly what motivates right-wing people. They specifically address their inferiority complexes, their desire for omnipotence and their fantasies of punishment – all in order to expand their own power. However, it would be a mistake to think that these inciters have any sympathy for their target audience. The people who follow them and give those politicians power are just useful idiots to them – and will be sacrificed without hesitation if necessary.
Then there is the group that is incapable of either sympathy or empathy. These people are called in psychology (Chris flips through his notes): assholes. Not pleasant to deal with, but fortunately too incompetent to do much damage. Such people do not succeed in life because they are unable to motivate other people by speaking to the desires of the people that they talk to.
The best group comes last. The people who possess both sympathy and empathy. They wish you well, but are respectful enough to understand that your desires, motives, goals are different from their own. These people want to help you to realize YOUR personal vision of happiness. Instead of forcing their own version down your throat. In politics these people were called LIBERALS (and you will NOT find them in the FDP.)
The billion combinations of desires, talents, odd tastes, and lovable flaws is what makes us humans so unique – and so interesting.
For the new year 2023, I wish all of us that we train our empathy. Each of us is unique. Recognizing and appreciating this is the first step towards peace in society and a happier future.
If you are an international jobseeker looking for your next career step in Germany:
You might want to find an ally who understands both your struggle – and the German way of doing business and thinking about candidates. I am happy to guide you to your next job in Germany.
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