The Difference between Pity and Empathy for My Stutter

Empathy and pity…are these words synonymous, or are they worlds apart? The first definition for pity is “the feeling of sorrow and compassion caused by the suffering and misfortune of others.” However, empathy is differentiated from pity by a single beautiful phrase: to understand and share. Should we feel sorry for others, or should we strive to understand and share in the struggles of others?

By its very definition, pity suggests that my stutter wasn’t supposed to happen. It implies that stuttering is a tragic mistake that keeps me from enjoying life. Pity is feeling sorry for the sadness and the suffering that stuttering must bring. In other words, pity dwells in the darkness, instead of stepping into the light. It only sees the negative, when in reality, there is so much more to stuttering.  My stutter is not a mistake. My stutter brings me sadness sometimes, but it also brings me incredible joy. It has not kept me from enjoying life; it has made me love it even more. Please, do not pity my stutter.

While pity only sees the condition, empathy goes one step further and sees the person. To be honest, I need to work on this in my own life. Feeling empathy for others means that we feel how they feel and see how they see. We feel the joy in their hearts when they succeed, and we feel the ache in their hearts when they fall. As we seek to truly understand someone’s condition, we slowly begin to share in his feelings, although we can never fully understand what he feels. The truth is that I do not want people to feel sorry for me. I do not want people to be sad for me, because I am not sad. I am on an amazing journey to embrace all the wonderful gifts that stuttering can give.

Of course, I do desire for people to understand how difficult life can be for people who stutter. Stuttering is extremely difficult, but I do not want people to miss all of the blessings I have experienced from stuttering. I want people to share in this journey and grow with me. I believe that true empathy acknowledges the struggle and feels all the heartache, but then it encourages us to thrive in spite of it all.

My greatest desire is for people to see that being different is not something to be pitied. Rather, it is something to be felt, to be understood, and most of all, to be celebrated.

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