The Fifth Life Lesson: Have empathy not sympathy

We are born to help the others. But we need to skillful and mindful when we help the others. Otherwise we will waste our effort or even hurt the others.

The most important thing that we need to know is not to let another person’s problem become our problem. If we identify with another person’s problem and emotions, we cannot see the problem clearly from a distance. We may take that person’s stance even though that person has a wrong view. Then we may become part of the problem and sometimes even make it into a big drama. Therefore, we should empathize but not sympathize with the others.

When we help another person, our role is to be a mirror and reflect the truth back to that person. Everyone has wisdom in himself or herself. They cannot see the truth because at that moment they are not calm. There is a storm going on in their mind. So when we talk to a person, we need to come back to our breathing from time to time so that we will not attach to another person’s words or emotions. If that person become very emotional and depressed, we can listen patiently by closing our eyes or remind that person to go back to his or her own breathing so that he or she can come back to the present moment. Mindfulness is pervasive. That person will be touched by your mindfulness and become more peaceful.

When both you and the person whom you are helping focus on the present moment, that person will see the truth and may be able to defuse a problem or find a way out. 🙂 All of the problems and suffering in this world are caused by ignorance, which is the bondage of an unnecessary self.  Mindfulness is the cure for suffering.

Thich Naht Hanh


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