Quotations about   empathy

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It is by means of my vices that I understand yours.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) American essayist, lecturer, poet
Journal (Spring-Summer 1844)
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He recorded this phrase multiple times, including in his lecture, "The Anglo-American" (7 Dec 1852), and Notebook S Salvage.
Added on 16-Apr-19 | Last updated 16-Apr-19
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Manners are a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others. If you have that awareness, you have good manners, no matter what fork you use.

Emily Post (1872-1960) American author, columnist [née Price]
(Attributed)

Often cited to her famous Etiquette in Society, in Business, in Politics, and at Home (1922), but not found in that work. Claimed as genuine by the Emily Post Institute.
Added on 4-Oct-18 | Last updated 4-Oct-18
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Your Honor, years ago I recognized my kinship with all living beings, and I made up my mind then that I was not one bit better than the meanest on earth. I said then, and I say now, that while there is a lower class, I am in it; and while there is a criminal element, I am of it; and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free.

Eugene V. Debs (1855-1926) American union leader, activist, socialist, politician
Statement to the Court (18 Sep 1918)
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On being convicted of Sedition. Often paraphrased: "As long as there is a lower class, I am in it. As long as there is a criminal element, I am of it. As long as there is a soul in prison, I am not free."
Added on 25-May-18 | Last updated 25-May-18
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The moral of it is, that if we would build on a sure foundation in friendship, we must love our friends for THEIR sakes rather than OUR OWN; we must look at their truth to THEMSELVES, full as much as their truth to US. In the latter case, every wound to self-love would be a cause of coldness; in the former, only some painful change in the friend’s character and disposition — some frightful breach in his allegiance to his better self — could alienate the heart.

Charlotte Brontë (1816-1855) British novelist [pseud. Currer Bell]
Letter to W S. Williams (21 Jul 1851)
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Added on 7-Apr-17 | Last updated 7-Apr-17
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Jenneth turned a blind eye to his part in their incipient suffering, a privilege that came with never really having suffered.

Emily Kate (E. K.) Johnston (contemp.) Canadian author
Ahsoka (2016)
Added on 20-Feb-17 | Last updated 20-Feb-17
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I do not ask the wounded person how he feels, I myself become the wounded person.

whitman-become-the-wounded-person-wist_info-quote

Walt Whitman (1819-1892) American poet
“The Song of Myself” Sec. 33 (1892)
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Added on 12-Oct-16 | Last updated 12-Oct-16
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You must look into people as well as at them.

Lord Chesterfield (1694-1773) English statesman, wit [Philip Dormer Stanhope]
Letter to his son (4 Oct 1746)
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Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep.

Paul - rejoice weep - wist_info quote

The Bible (14th C BC - 2nd C AD) Christian sacred scripture
Romans 12:15 [KJV]
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The more you are drawn to put yourself in the place of the other person, the more you feel the pain inflicted upon him, the insult offered him, the injustice of which he is a victim, the more you will be urged to act so that you may prevent the pain, insult, or injustice.

Peter Kropotkin (1842-1921) Russian activist, scientist, philosopher, anarchist
Anarchist Morality (1909)
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Now, I’m an atheist. I really don’t believe for a moment that our moral sense comes from a God. […] It’s human, universal, [it’s] being able to think our way into the minds of others. As I said at the time, what those holy fools clearly lacked, or clearly were able to deny themselves, was the ability to enter into the minds of the people they were being so cruel to. Amongst their crimes, is, was, a failure of the imagination, of the moral imagination.

Ian McEwan (b. 1948) English novelist and screenwriter
“Faith and Doubt At Ground Zero,” Frontline (Feb 2002)
Added on 19-Jul-16 | Last updated 19-Jul-16
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We have a marvelous gift, and you see it develop in children, this ability to become aware that other people have minds just like your own and feelings that are just as important as your own, and this gift of empathy seems to me to be the building block of our moral system.

Ian McEwan (b. 1948) English novelist and screenwriter
The Root of All Evil? documentary, Channel 4, United Kingdom (Jan 2006)
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Yet, taught by time, my heart has learned to glow
For other’s good, and melt at other’s woe.

Alexander Pope (1688-1744) English poet
The Odyssey of Homer, Book 18 (1725)

See also Pope.
Added on 17-May-16 | Last updated 17-May-16
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Imagining what it is like to be someone other than yourself is at the core of our humanity. It is the essence of compassion, and it is the beginning of morality.

McEwan - someone other than yourself - wist_info quote

Ian McEwan (b. 1948) English novelist and screenwriter
“Only love and then oblivion,” The Guardian (15 Sep 2001)
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Added on 9-May-16 | Last updated 9-May-16
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There is nothing we like to see so much as the gleam of pleasure in a person’s eye when he feels that we have sympathized with him, understood him, interested ourself in his welfare. At these moments something fine and spiritual passes between two friends. These moments are the moments worth living.

Don Marquis (1878-1937) American journalist and humorist
Prefaces, “Preface to a Memorandum Book” (1919)
Added on 3-May-16 | Last updated 3-May-16
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So perish all whose breast ne’er learned to glow
For others’ good, or melt at others’ woe!

Alexander Pope (1688-1744) English poet
“Elegy to an Unfortunate Lady”, l. 45 (1717)
Added on 26-Apr-16 | Last updated 26-Apr-16
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When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.

Henri Nouwen (1932-1996) Dutch Catholic priest and writer
Out of Solitude (1974)
Added on 15-Apr-16 | Last updated 15-Apr-16
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A man, to be greatly good, must imagine intensely and comprehensively; he must put himself in the place of another and of many others; the pains and pleasures of his species must become his own.

Shelley - greatly good - wist_info quote

Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822) English poet
A Defence of Poetry (1821) [ed. Albert S. Cook (1890)]
Added on 26-Jan-16 | Last updated 1-Jun-16
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I do not believe that any man can lead who does not act, whether it be consciously or unconsciously, under the impulse of a profound sympathy with those whom he leads — a sympathy which is insight — an insight which is of the heart rather than of the intellect.

Woodrow Wilson (1856-1924) US President (1913-20), educator, political scientist
“Leaders of Men,” Commencement Address, University of Tennessee, Knoxville (17 Jun 1890)
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Added on 14-Dec-15 | Last updated 14-Dec-15
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If you ask any police officer what the worst part of the job is, they will always say breaking bad news to relatives, but this is not the truth. The worst part is staying in the room after you’ve broken the news, so that you’re forced to be there when someone’s life disintegrates around them. Some people say it doesn’t bother them — such people are not to be trusted.

Ben Aaronovitch (b. 1964) British author
Rivers of London [Midnight Riot] (2011)
Added on 14-Oct-15 | Last updated 14-Oct-15
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Harder to laugh at the comedy if it’s about you, harder to cry at the tragedy if it isn’t.

James Richardson (b. 1950) American poet
Vectors: Aphorisms and Ten-Second Essays (2001)
Added on 18-Sep-15 | Last updated 18-Sep-15
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The pat on the back, the arm around the shoulder, the praise for what was done right, and the sympathetic nod for what wasn’t, are as much a part of golf as life itself.

Gerald R. Ford (1913-2006) US President, (1974-77) [b. Leslie Lynch King, Jr.]
Speech, Dedication of the World Golf Hall of Fame, Pinehurst, North Carolina (12 Sep 1974)
Added on 28-Aug-15 | Last updated 28-Aug-15
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He whose Belly is full believes not him whose is empty.

Thomas Fuller (1654-1734) English writer, physician
Gnomologia, #2399 (1732)
Added on 27-Aug-15 | Last updated 27-Aug-15
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You can’t help but try and follow an animal’s thought processes, and you can’t help, when faced with an animal like a three ton rhinoceros with nasal passages bigger than its brain, but fail.

Douglas Adams (1952-2001) English writer
Last Chance to See, ch. 3 (1990)
Added on 3-Aug-15 | Last updated 3-Aug-15
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ORLANDO: O, how bitter a thing it is to look into happiness through another man’s eyes!

William Shakespeare (1564-1616) English dramatist and poet
As You Like It, Act 5, sc. 2 (1599)
Added on 9-Jun-15 | Last updated 9-Jun-15
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You can’t do the biggest things in this world unless you handle men; and you can’t handle men if you’re not in sympathy with them; and sympathy begins in humility.

George Horace Lorimer (1867-1937) American journalist, author, magazine editor
Letters from a Self-Made Merchant to His Son (1901)
Added on 29-Jul-14 | Last updated 15-Oct-15
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A large part of altruism, even when it is perfectly honest, is grounded upon the fact that it is uncomfortable to have unhappy people about one.

H.L. Mencken (1880-1956) American writer and journalist [Henry Lewis Mencken]
“On the Nature of Man: The Altruist,” Prejudices: Fourth Series (1924)
Added on 13-Jan-14 | Last updated 13-Jan-14
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Shared joyse are doubled; shared sorrows are halved.

Other Authors and Sources
English proverb

See Cicero.
Added on 26-Nov-13 | Last updated 7-Jan-19
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Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.

Jesus - do unto others - wist_info quote

The Bible (14th C BC - 2nd C AD) Christian sacred scripture
Matthew 7:12 (KJV)

Variants:
  • Popularly, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."
  • NIV: "So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets."
  • NRSV: "In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets."
  • TEV: "Do for others what you want them to do for you: this is the meaning of the Law of Moses and of the teachings of the prophets."


Note: The "Golden Rule" has been expressed in many ways by many religious and philosophical teachers. Several of these in WIST are or will be cross-referenced to this quotation (as trackbacks), not to lend it primacy, but because this is the most well-known formulation of it in the Western world, and to simplify the cross-referencing to one central point.
Added on 13-Sep-10 | Last updated 23-Apr-19
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I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will.

Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) American clergyman, civil rights leader, orator
Letter from Birmingham Jail (16 Apr 1963)
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Added on 12-Jun-09 | Last updated 19-Jan-15
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The thing about monsters is, you want to kill them until you meet them, and when you meet them they don’t seem monstrous, and killing them begins to seem unkind.

Robert B. Parker (1932-2010) American writer
Crimson Joy (1988)
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 12-Apr-17
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If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we should find in each man’s life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882) American poet
Drift-Wood, “Table Talk”
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What is hateful to you, do not to your neighbor. That is the whole Torah; the rest is commentary. Go and study it.

[d’`alakh sani l’khaverkha la ta`avid. Zo hi kol hatora kulahh, v’idakh peirusha hu: zil g’mor]

The Talmud (AD 200-500) Collection of Jewish rabbinical writings
Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 31a (Rabbi Hillel)

(Noted elsewhere as tractate Shabbat 30a.) See also the Bible, Matthew 7:12. Alt. Trans.: "What is hateful to thee, do not unto thy fellow; this is the whole law. All the rest is a commentary to this law; go and learn it."
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 13-Jul-17
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Human beings are like parts of a body,
created from the same essence.
When one part is hurt and in pain,
the others cannot remain in peace and be quiet.
If the misery of others leaves you indifferent
and with no feelings of sorrow,
You cannot be called a human being.

Sa'adi (1184-1283/1291?) Persian poet [a.k.a. Sa'di, Moslih Eddin Sa'adi, Mushrif-ud-Din Abdullah, Muslih-ud-Din Mushrif ibn Abdullah, Mosleh al-Din Saadi Shirazi, Shaikh Mosslehedin Saadi Shirazi]
Poem on Humanity

Alternate translations:

Posted in the entrance to the Hall of Nations of the UN building, New York:

Of one Essence is the human race,
Thusly has Creation put the Base;
One Limb impacted is sufficient,
For all Others to feel the Mace.

Alt trans (M. Aryanpour):

Human beings are members of a whole,
In creation of one essence and soul.
If one member is afflicted with pain,
Other members uneasy will remain.
If you have no sympathy for human pain,
The name of human you cannot retain.

Alternate:

The sons of Adam are limbs of each other,
Having been created of one essence.
When the calamity of time affects one limb
The other limbs cannot remain at rest.
If thou hast no sympathy for the troubles of others
Thou art unworthy to be called by the name of a human.

Alternate:

All human beings are in truth akin;
All in creation share one origin.
When fate allots a member pangs and pains,
No ease for other members then remains.
If, unperturbed, another's grief canst scan,
Thou are not worthy of the name of man.

Alternate:

All Adam's race are members of one frame,
Since all, at first, from the same essence came.
When by hard fortune one limb is oppressed,
The other members lose their wonted rest:
If thou feel'st not for others' misery,
A son of Adam is no name for thee.

Persian original can be seen here. Transliterated (here) as:

Bani aadam aazaye yek digarand
ke dar aafarinesh ze yek gooharand
cho ozvi be dard aavarad roozegaar
degar ozvhaa raa namaanad gharaar
to kaz mehnate digaraan bi ghami
nashaayad ke naamat nahand aadami

Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 17-Mar-16
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Candy smiled at me a little. “Look,” she said. “You’re a good guy. I know you care about me, but you’re a while male, you can’t understand a minority situation. It’s not your fault.”

[…] When the beer came, I drank about a quarter of it and said to Candy, “Extend that logic, and we eventually have to decide that no one can understand anyone. Maybe the matter of understanding has been overrated. Maybe I don’t have to understand your situation to sympathize with it, to help you alter it, to be on your side. I’ve never experienced starvation either, but I’m opposed to it. When I encounter it, I try to alleviate it. I sympathize with its victims. The question of whether I understand it doesn’t arise.”

She shook her head. “That’s different,” she said.

“Maybe it isn’t. Maybe civilization is possible, if at all, only because people can care about conditions they haven’t experienced. Maybe you need understanding like a fish needs a bicycle.”

“You’re quite thoughtful,” she said, “for a man your size.”

“You’ve never been my size,” I said. “You wouldn’t understand.”

Robert B. Parker (1932-2010) American writer
A Savage Place, ch. 12 (1981)
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Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 15-Mar-17
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