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quotations about empathy

You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view -- until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.

HARPER LEE, To Kill a Mockingbird

The just man is not the product of a day, but of a long brooding and a painful birth. To become a power for peace, a man must first pass through experiences which lead him to see things in their different aspects: it is necessary that he have a wide horizon, and breathe various atmospheres--in a word, from crossing, one after another, paths and points of view the most diverse, and sometimes the most contradictory, he must acquire the faculty of putting himself in the place of others and appreciating them.


You know, there's a lot of talk in this country about the federal deficit. But I think we should talk more about our empathy deficit - the ability to put ourselves in someone else's shoes; to see the world through the eyes of those who are different from us - the child who's hungry, the steelworker who's been laid-off, the family who lost the entire life they built together when the storm came to town. When you think like this - when you choose to broaden your ambit of concern and empathize with the plight of others, whether they are close friends or distant strangers - it becomes harder not to act; harder not to help.

BARACK OBAMA, speech, Aug. 11, 2006

There is nothing heavier than compassion. Not even one's own pain weighs so heavy as the pain one feels with someone, for someone, a pain intensified by the imagination and prolonged by a hundred echoes.

MILAN KUNDERA, The Unbearable Lightness of Being

I believe empathy is the most essential quality of civilization.

ROGER EBERT, Roger Ebert's Movie Yearbook 2011

We need empathy, we need the eyes that still can weep.

LYDIA MILLET, Oh Pure and Radiant Heart

Empathy is the crucible of intercultural relations.

CAROLYN CALLOWAY-THOMAS, Empathy in the Global World

Empathy is akin to sympathy, but whereas sympathy says, "I feel as you do," empathy says, "I know how you feel." In other words, empathy enables us to use our heads more than our hearts, and allows us to appreciate another person's feelings without becoming emotionally involved with him.

R. W. ARMSTRONG, Reader's Digest, 1955

Self-absorption in all its forms kills empathy, let alone compassion. When we focus on ourselves, our world contracts as our problems and preoccupations loom large. But when we focus on others, our world expands. Our own problems drift to the periphery of the mind and so seem smaller, and we increase our capacity for connection - or compassionate action.

DANIEL GOLEMAN, Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships

Loss of empathy might well be the most enduring and deep-cutting scar of all, the silent blade of an unseen enemy, tearing at our hearts and stealing more than our strength.

R. A. SALVATORE, The Silent Blade

Empathy is always guesswork. We cannot know how the other person feels. However, we do attempt to imagine feelings, which we presume are connected with the issues in the story we have been told.


Education leads to enlightenment. Enlightenment opens the way to empathy. Empathy foreshadows reform.

DERRICK A. BELL, Faces at the Bottom of the Well

The comforter's head never aches.


Empathy is a powerful behavior of nurturing. When it is given properly, the receiver can feel that the giver really cares about them, and that what they are going through is not trivial.


True empathy is always welcomed, compared with sympathy which may be rejected, because of an implicit or deliberate act of movement 'towards', rather than 'being with' and almost 'being one with'.

MURRAY COX, Structuring the Therapeutic Process

What dooms our best efforts to cultivate empathy and compassion is always, of course, other people.

TIM KREIDER, We Learn Nothing

Empathy is the feeling that "I might be you" or "I am you," but it is more than just an intellectual identification; empathy must be accompanied by feeling. Sympathy brings compassion, "I want to help you," but empathy brings emotion. Without feeling there is no empathy.

HOWARD M. SPIRO, Empathy and the Practice of Medicine: Beyond Pills and the Scalpel

You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was Dostoevsky and Dickens who taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, or who ever had been alive. Only if we face these open wounds in ourselves can we understand them in other people.

JAMES BALDWIN, Life Magazine, May 24, 1963

Forging the kind of alliance between reason and emotion that produces empathy is always a work in progress, but it is an achievement worth striving for.


The solution to nearly every problem in the world comes down to greater awareness, compassion, and empathy.

BRYANT MCGILL, Voice of Reason

When your own life is threatened, your sense of empathy is blunted by a terrible, selfish hunger for survival.


Without exception, empathy is always appropriate.

STEPHEN R. COVEY, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Families

Much of the insensibility and hardness of the world is due to the lack of imagination which prevents a realization of the experiences of other people.

JANE ADDAMS, Democracy and Social Ethics

Empathy is the creation of holograms of a view of the other's whole from a small portion of their speech and non-verbal expression. The consequence is that the view of any self is inter-twined with the view of others in such a way that even the tiniest hints and mentions of what others experience, for the most part, make instantaneous sense for listeners. When listening carefully, and attending closely to how people speak, what is understood is far in excess of the manner of speech and the logical content of what is said. Empathy is being momentarily and subtly transported out of oneself--and into the perspective, self-experiences and view of the world of others.

IAN RORY OWEN, Talk, Action and Belief

In the currency of friendship, empathy is more valuable than accuracy.



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