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Sympathy, empathy and compassion have been widely studied in many different disciplines but there has been little agreement among researchers. Studies often address the process of giving sympathy but little has been done with the process of receiving sympathy or the complex intersection of the two. This paper is an autoethnography that explores the relational way we develop an understanding of sympathy and compassion. I use an introspective process to study how I have come to understand compassion and sympathy in care giving for my mother. I seek a different approach to compassion and sympathy as a social process of symmetry and connection rather than of hierarchy or power. It is in finding loving kindness for myself that I strive to extend compassion to others without condescension. In Start Where You Are: a Guide to Compassionate Living Pema Chödrön advocates for a change in the traditional way we view sympathy and compassion as the helper and the one in need of help; “In order to have compassionate relationships, compassionate communication, and compassionate social action, there has to be a fundamental change in attitude” (p. 103). Through the narratives in this paper I seek to create evocative stories which will induce emotional responses for the readers in the hope that they will experience sympathy and compassion in a different way.


Conference paper from SSSI (Society for Symbolic Interactionism), 2003 Conference Panel