I was four years old, surrounded by the voices of family member catching up, telling each other about their jobs, kids, and just life in general. Smells of Christmas cookies and a roasting turkey were lingering in the air, and I was itching with anticipation of the gift exchange that was about to take place. Finally, my grandma announced that it was time to do the gift exchange, and all of my cousins, aunts, uncles, and people that I frankly had never met before but was told I was related to came rushing around the Christmas tree.
Lit up with beautiful lights, bows, and ornaments, the tree was surrounded with shiny presents wrapped in huge bows. I sat next to my cousin, Sarah, who was less than a year younger than me. After watching many family members receive their gifts, it was finally time for me to open mine, which my mom had brought just for me to ensure I did not end up with a gift I would not like, probably to avoid a four-year-old throwing a tantrum, because that could get ugly fast.
Happily opening my present, I was elated to open up a brand new toy set of Tinkerbell dolls. For the rest of the gift exchange, I sat with my new toy box on my lap, admiring the pretty dolls inside, counting down the minutes until my mom would finally let me start playing with them. After the exchange was over, I was about to open up my new toys when I noticed my cousin Sarah had not received a gift. I looked up at her with curiosity, and I became sad when I realized that she was the only one without a gift.
After a few minutes of debating in my head whether or not I should do something to help her, I finally handed her my new Tinkerbell dolls and told her she could have them. Her face lit up as she took the box from me, ripped it open, and began to play with the dolls that I once believed would be mine forever. Instead of feeling sad about losing my gift, I was happy that I was able to make her smile and to give her something that she had wanted. The sympathy I had felt towards my cousin had led me to sacrifice what I had received in order to make someone else happy.
While it may have just been a simple gesture of giving to a family member, I believe that this gesture has a greater meaning about society, and the sense of sympathy everyone is born with, because if a four-year-old can give up their new toy to someone in need, anyone has the ability to feel sympathy towards another human being in need of help. Whether or not the person actually helps another person out is another story. Like many people, I have been both on the giving and receiving end of the word sympathy. Not the iteral word, of course, but the actual meaning. When my grandpa passed away, I received sympathy in various forms. From getting sympathy cards and hugs from family and friends to words of encouragement and support during a tough time, people demonstrated the meaning of sympathy in a plethora of different ways. Sympathy is defined by dictionary. com as “the fact or power of sharing the feelings of another, especially in sorrow or trouble; fellow feeling, compassion, or commiseration”. Sympathy is not just a feeling; it is the power of sharing feelings.
The power of sharing feelings is so much stronger than feelings themselves, as sympathy gives us the ability to relate with people on a different level, to put ourselves in another person’s shoes and feel their pain, struggles, and hurt. A child sits on the hospital bed, needles in his arms providing his body with medicine and antibiotics that he needs to make it another day. Goosebumps crawl up his body because despite the fact that the room is hot enough to make anyone sweat, his illness causes him to constantly be cold.
No one knows how much longer his little body will be able to fight off the sickness that has overcome him. One day he was playing with many other boys and girls his age, not a care in the world and the next day he could barely walk on his own. His parents try to remain strong through it all, but seeing their little boy’s body slowly shut down is heart breaking. This kind of story, of an unstoppable, terrible sickness, breaks everyone’s heart. Sickness is heartbreaking.
For families who go through this same situation, there are hundreds of support organizations such as Dance Marathon, Love Your Melon, Covers for Cancer, and many more. Why are those organizations in place? Why are these kind of stories so utterly heartbreaking? In a world where it seems like so many people are just focused on their own problems and lives, why do people still go out of their way to help people that are hurting? The answer is sympathy. Sympathy is the reason people feel the need to act, to help people in need.
Sympathy is the reason for heartbreak, even when it is not from something you are going through, but something someone else is going through. Sympathy is putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. Feeling their pain. Feeling their hurt, sadness, and despair. Everyone has felt sympathy at some point in their life, whether it was feeling the pain of someone who lost a loved one, giving in to an animal begging for food, or paying for the meal of a family at a restaurant. The reality is that we are all human beings, capable of feeling sympathy towards each other, relating to one another’s lives.
Why is sympathy so important? In a world full of violence, war, hatred, and greed, sympathy is the one thing that overcomes it all. Sympathy is one of the most influential emotions on society and can overcome even the ugliest of situations and tragedies. Without sympathy, the parents of the sick child might not have hope. My cousin who had not received a gift might not have felt welcomed or valued. The animal who had not received food may have died of hunger. The family who lost a loved one would feel loss, hopelessness, and despair. Without sympathy, the world would be a much darker place.
Sympathy is not always shown in extravagant ways, rather sometimes it is a small, seemingly insignificant act such as simply holding the door for someone. Sympathy is compassion, understanding, love, selflessness, and kindness all wrapped up in one emotion. On pajama day in second grade, the lunch was tomato soup. Vibrant, red, extremely strong smelling tomato soup. The kind of soup I dreaded to read on the lunch menu. As I was walking up to the counter to dump my tray, ridding the nasty tomato soup from my presence, the tray somehow took a wrong turn and poured down my favorite pajamas.
In the blink of an eye, the terrible, red hot liquid was streaming down my pajamas, pouring in to a puddle on the ground by my feet. Tears welled in my eyes, as I made my way to the bathroom. One of the ladies on lunch duty followed me and helped me wipe off the soup that had stained my clothes. I remember looking up at her with tears in my eyes, watching her calmly wetting a paper towel, telling me it was going to be okay. She did not have to help me, but she did. She did not have to tell me that it was okay, that it was no big deal, but she did.
Looking back at that day in second grade, it all does not seem like a big deal. In fact, it is more of a funny, somewhat embarrassing story, but back then, it was an enormous, embarrassing, life ruining event. To this day, the lady who was on lunch duty still sticks out in my mind because of the sympathy she showed me, relating to my tragic event and helping me through my embarrassing event. Sympathy does not have to be this amazing, extravagant act of kindness. It can be simply helping someone out during the most embarrassing day of their childhood.
It can be holding the door for someone with their hands full, saying good morning to someone as you pass them in a crowded hallway, or even just putting yourself in someone else’s shoes, having compassion on them, and just being there to support them through a tough time. While it may seem simple to some people, showing sympathy towards someone can make an enormous impact on someone in need, letting them know that they are needed, loved, or cared for. Sympathy can be simple. Text someone who is having a terrible day. Volunteer at a hospital and spend time with someone who is sick.
Hold the door. Life is short. There are too many people that are hurting to just let them feel worthless or hopeless. Instead of living in a world that is focused on their own problems, choose to put yourself in someone else’s pair of shoes, and who knows, maybe you will learn something. Maybe that same person will one day help you out in a time of need. Sympathy, the feeling or power of relating with someone else’s hurt or struggle, needs to become a large part today’s culture. Sympathy is an incredibly influential emotion that has the power to overcome any struggle someone is going through.