Empathy vs. Sympathy: The Difference Between Liberals And Conservatives

Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines empathy as “the experiencing as one’s own of the feelings of another; also: the capacity for this.” Merriam-Webster defines sympathy as “an expression of sorrow for another’s loss, grief or misfortune.” There is a difference between empathy and sympathy, and that difference may help us understand the difference between liberals and conservatives.

In the hours following the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School, parents all over America were frozen to their televisions or computers, grief pouring out of our souls. How, why, what, how can we help, what can we do? Some of us helped our local schools create cards to send to Newtown, others volunteered, we prayed and cried and hugged our kids so tightly. Empathy coursed through our veins; we were joined in our common sorrow and outrage.

Many conservatives had a different response to that horrible day. Yes, it was a tragedy, however, while they mourned the deaths of twenty-six people including kids who didn’t have all their adult teeth, they didn’t feel what Newtown was feeling. They didn’t feel what the majority of Americans were feeling. Interestingly, that massacre did move a few Blue Dog Democrats to propose less-than-comprehensive gun reform, but for the most part, the silence was deafening. Until Wayne LaPierre stepped onto a stage one week later.

Wayne LaPierre did his job perfectly. He blamed everything under the sun except the one thing that allowed the murderer of those twenty-six people to do what he did. He feigned grief, shaking his head while looking sorrowful. But in the end, Wayne LaPierre did what he always does when guns kill people: he catered to his clients (gun manufacturers and retailers) and ignored the dead.

Having a total lack of empathy for the poor in America is Stuart Varney’s bread and butter. Varney, a Fox “Business” host with an approximate net worth of $10 million, claims to have sympathy for the poor while expounding on his belief that they’re not actually poor. I discovered Stuart Varney when I watched a segment of his program. He had Robert Rector of The Heritage Foundation as his guest, and the two of them chatted about how poor people have refrigerators and phones, therefore, they are not poor. And Mr. Rector, while slamming a statistic that claims 12% of American children may be going to bed hungry (he believes it’s only 2%), said he has “sympathy” for people who are actually poor.

By the way, according to the website ChildStats.gov, there were 73.7 million children in American in 2012, which means that 1.474 million of them (by his estimate) were going to bed hungry every night. According to Stuart Varney and Robert Rector, that’s okay because they have a television.

Of course, we also have politicians with sympathy. Richard Mourdock believes being raped is horrible, but if you get pregnant, it’s a “gift from God.” Paul Ryan has sympathy for the elderly, the handicapped and the poor, he really just thinks giving you things like Medicaid and Social Security will encourage you to lounge around in a hammock. Louie Gohmert got into politics in the first place because as a judge, he saw so many single moms commit welfare fraud, he just had to stop it by running for Congress. Gohmert has sympathy for the kids born to “deadbeat dads” and single moms with “15 kids,” just not enough to feed them.

There is a time for real sympathy. Trying to distract someone from a problem, cheering them up with humor, or taking them away from the issue for a bit is sometimes a great idea. What conservatives practice is not real sympathy. There is no mercy, no goodwill – only condescension, anger and blame. And there’s certainly no empathy. Often, expressing sympathy begins with “At least.” You’re poor? Well, at least you have a microwave says Stuart Varney. You were raped and might be pregnant? Well, at least you got that gift from God states Richard Mourdock. Your kids are hungry? Well, at least it’s only 2% lies Robert Rector.

Again, there’s a time for both sympathy and empathy. In each, we must show true compassion, true understanding and gentleness. A rape victim doesn’t need Todd Akin wondering if her rape was legitimate. A single mom doesn’t need Mitt Romney blaming her for gun violence. A hungry kid doesn’t care if it’s 14 million or 1.474 million; he just knows he hasn’t eaten all day and it’s hard to concentrate.

Empathy is hard. It forces us to see through another person’s eyes for just a moment. But in doing so, we may be able to see past the pain and into a not-so-distant future where understanding and love are more common than derision and hate. We need truth in media, truth in politics and truth in our own lives. People like Stuart Varney and Wayne LaPierre and Louie Gohmert and Paul Ryan must be told, as loudly and as often as possible, that in our country, we don’t turn our backs on people who are in trouble, we reach out and help. We are the United States of America after all.

Erin Nanasi

Erin Nanasi is the creator of The Bachmann Diaries: Satirical Excerpts from Michele Bachmann's Fictional Diary. She hates writing about herself in the third person. Erin enjoys reading, writing, and spending time with family. And wombats. Come visit Erin on on Facebook. She also can be found on Twitter at @WriterENanasi.


Facebook comments

  • Pipercat

    Values are different too. One values time; the other values wealth.

  • charleo1

    I think we have to be realistic here. Republicans, with their agenda, can
    not afford to be empathic toward the poor. Because, they’ve been to
    enough of these, ‘retreats,” like the one the Kochs hold every year at their
    digs near Aspen. They understand their plans are going to create millions more poor people. Even as they will undoubtedly make a small minority of individuals rich beyond imagination. And they know for the kind of wealth disparity being discussed by these billionaires at these fundraisers. Before any of that can become reality, the first order of business is going to need to be, to eliminate all manner of these New Deal programs. Social Security, Medicare, of course Medicaid, ObamaCare. Can you imagine? They are trying to figure out how to kill Social Security, and Medicare. Privatize them, or turn them over to Wall Street. Then, President Obama comes along, and passes a National Healthcare Plan! Wow! No wonder the Republicans are running around, with their hair on fire, acting like a bunch of lunatics. No wonder they hate President Obama. But, the truth about the Republican Party, is they have not been aligned, or in touch with the majority of Americans in a very long time. Remember Reagan, way back in the sixties? Claiming Medicare would open the door to Socialism. And, then, just a hop, skip, and a jump, until really really old people were explaining to their Grandkids what it was like once, when men were free. What a load of baloney! Well, they’re still slicing baloney!

    • David Shaw Jr

      They’re still slicing baloney and large segments of the population still eat it up.

  • Jim Bean

    Another observation I’ve often heard made comparing conservatives to liberals is that ‘liberals feel’ and ‘conservatives think.’ This articles offers some evidence in support of that. But I’ve often noted that Liberals ‘feel’ very selectively. For example, why do Liberals always look the other way with regard to so many blacks killing other blacks? Why do they ‘feel’ nothing there?

    • Mrs_oatmeal

      Gang violence is a bit different than walking into a scool and shooting 26 people. Who says Liberals differentiate between who gets killed. This might be where Liberals are asking for more gun control laws…

      • Jim Bean

        I agree it is different. But is seems irrational to me that our approach to gun violence should be tunnel-visioned towards the 26 killed in the school and blind to the 10’s of thousands killed on the street.

  • Sam

    Erin Nanasi: Great article and well written. The lack of empathy in these people gives me nightmares. If the moderates and liberals among us don’t do everything in our power to block these people from succeeding in what they want to do, this country is in really serious trouble. I know there are more good than bad (selfish) people here in America, and all the good ones, those that are truly compassionate, and empathetic to ALL PEOPLE, are going to have to save us. Vote, raise your voice, volunteer, donate, whatever you can do, we need to do it. May God help the good people have the strength to get the job done. Amen.

    • Sandy Greer

      Never, EVER, skip an election! Vote every time. It’s too important.

      • Uncouth Angel

        If voting mattered at all, they wouldn’t let you do it.

  • Sandy Greer

    I think this is the single biggest difference between libs/conservs: Dems ‘feel’; in fact, are most often berated for their empathy, and wanting to help others. While conservs…don’t. Or, if they do, it’s reserved for their ‘own’ kind.
    Any empathy TeaPugs have is not for the common folk. If they like us at all…it’s an intellectual exercise…not an emotional one of empathy.
    And then they wonder why they can’t get a vote.
    Let ’em do what they do best. Nobody does it better. They are their own worst enemy.

  • Justin

    My fucking god, you act like there’s not such thing as a selfish, wealthy democrat.

  • Benjamin Hochstrasser

    Liberals and their word games. Empathy! No sympathy! They have plenty of empathy and sympathy for criminals, terrorist, illegal aliens, and the socially unproductive. However no sympathy for soldiers doing our dirty work that commit war crimes, or a cop who puts his life at risk every day and is quick to use deadly force, or individuals with religious views that conflict with the politically correct, or kids running a lemonade stand without a permit, or tea partiers calling for a reduction in gov spending. Liberals supported slavery, Indian massacres, the KKK, eugenics, fascism, communism and Jim Crow laws. Now after liberals finally join everyone else, they try to claim that conservatives still support all the old practices that we fought liberals on from the beginning. I have sympathy for you crazy Liberals.

  • mam646

    What a bunch of horse shit. I can guarantee you that you support abortion.