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Categories: Uncategorized
Sources: As A Matter Of Course

SYMPATHY, in its best sense, is the ability to take another's point

of view. Not to mourn because he mourns; not to feel injured because

he feels injured. There are times when we cannot agree with a friend

in the necessity for mourning or feeling injured; but we can

understand the cause of his disturbance, and see clearly that his

suffering is quite reasonable, _from his own point of view_. One

cannot blame a man for b
ing color-blind; but by thoroughly

understanding and sympathizing with the fact that red _must_ be green

as he sees it, one can help him to bring his mental retina to a more

normal state, until every color is taken at its proper value.

This broader sort of sympathy enables us to serve others much more


If we feel at one with a man who is suffering from a supposed injury

which may be entirely his own fault, we are doing all in our power

to confirm him in his mistake, and his impression of martyrdom is

increased and protracted in proportion. But if, with a genuine

comprehension of his point of view, however unreal it may be in

itself, we do our best to see his trouble in an unprejudiced light,

that is sympathy indeed; for our real sympathy is with the man

himself, cleared from his selfish fog. What is called our sympathy

with his point of view is more a matter of understanding. The

sympathy which takes the man for all in all, and includes the

comprehension of his prejudices, will enable us to hold our tongues

with regard to his prejudiced view until he sees for himself or

comes to us for advice.

It is interesting to notice how this sympathy with another enables

us to understand and forgive one from whom we have received an

injury. His point of view taken, his animosity against us seems to

follow as a matter of course; then no time or force need be wasted

on resentment.

Again, you cannot blame a man for being blind, even though his

blindness may be absolutely and entirely selfish, and you the

sufferer in consequence.

It often follows that the endeavor to get a clear understanding of

another's view brings to notice many mistaken ideas of our own, and

thus enables us to gain a better standpoint It certainly helps us to

enduring patience; whereas a positive refusal to regard the

prejudices of another is rasping to our own nerves, and helps to fix

him in whatever contraction may have possessed him.

There can be no doubt that this open sympathy is one of the better

phases of our human intercourse most to be desired. It requires a

clear head and a warm heart to understand the prejudices of a friend

or an enemy, and to sympathize with his capabilities enough to help

him to clearer mental vision.

Often, to be sure, there are two points of view, both equally true.

But they generally converge into one, and that one is more easily

found through not disputing our own with another's. Through sympathy

with him we are enabled to see the right on both sides, and reach

the central point.

It is singular that it takes us so long to recognize this breadth of

sympathy and practise it. Its practice would relieve us of an

immense amount of unnecessary nerve-strain. But the nerve-relief is

the mere beginning of gain to come. It steadily opens a clearer

knowledge and a heartier appreciation of human nature. We see in

individuals traits of character, good and bad, that we never could

have recognized whilst blinded by our own personal prejudices. By

becoming alive to various little sensitive spots in others, we are

enabled to avoid them, and save an endless amount of petty suffering

which might increase to suffering that was really severe.

One good illustration of this want of sympathy, in a small way, is

the waiting-room of a well-known nerve-doctor. The room is in such a

state of confusion, it is such a mixture of colors and forms, that

it would be fatiguing even for a person in tolerable health to stay

there for an hour. Yet the doctor keeps his sensitive, nervously

excited patients sitting in this heterogeneous mass of discordant

objects hour after hour. Surely it is no psychological subtlety of

insight that gives a man of this type his name and fame: it must be

the feeding and resting process alone; for a man of sensitive

sympathy would study to save his patients by taking their point of

view, as well as to bring them to a better physical state through

nourishment and rest

The ability to take a nervous sufferer's point of view is greatly

needed. There can be no doubt that with that effort on the part of

friends and relatives, many cases of severe nervous prostration

might be saved, certainly much nervous suffering could be prevented.

A woman who is suffering from a nervous conscience writes a note

which shows that she is worrying over this or that supposed mistake,

or as to what your attitude is towards her. A prompt, kind, and

direct answer will save her at once from further nervous suffering

of that sort. To keep an anxious person, whether he be sick or well,

watching the mails, is a want of sympathy which is also shown in

many other ways, unimportant, perhaps, to us, but important if we

are broad enough to take the other's point of view.

There are many foolish little troubles from which men and women

suffer that come only from tired nerves. A wise patience with such

anxieties will help greatly towards removing their cause. A wise

patience is not indulgence. An elaborate nervous letter of great

length is better answered by a short but very kind note.

The sympathy which enables us to understand the point of view of

tired nerves gives us the power to be lovingly brief in our response

to them, and at the same time more satisfying than if we responded

at length.

Most of us take human nature as a great whole, and judge individuals

from our idea in general. Or, worse, we judge it all from our own

personal prejudices. There is a grossness about this which we wonder

at not having seen before, when we compare the finer sensitiveness

which is surely developed by the steady effort to understand

another's point of view. We know a whole more perfectly as a whole

if we have a distinct knowledge of the component parts. We can only

understand human nature en masse through a daily clearer knowledge

of and sympathy with its individuals. Every one of us knows the

happiness of having at least one friend whom he is perfectly sure

will neither undervalue him nor give him undeserved praise, and

whose friendship and help he can count upon, no matter how great a

wrong he has done, as securely as he could count upon his loving

thought and attention in physical illness. Surely it is possible for

each of us to approach such friendship in our feeling and attitude

towards every one who comes in touch with us.

It is comparatively easy to think of this open sympathy, or even

practise it in big ways; it is in the little matters of everyday

life that the difficulty arises. Of course the big ways count for

less if they come through a brain clogged with little prejudices,

although to some extent one must help the other.

It cannot be that a man has a real open sympathy who limits it to

his own family and friends; indeed, the very limit would make the

open sympathy impossible. One is just as far from a clear

comprehension of human nature when he limits himself by his

prejudices for his immediate relatives as when he makes himself

alone the boundary.

Once having gained even the beginning of this broader sympathy with

others, there follows the pleasure of freedom from antagonisms,

keener delight in understanding others, individually and

collectively, and greater ability to serve others; and all these

must give an impetus which takes us steadily on to greater freedom,

to clearer understanding, and to more power to serve and to be


Others have many experiences which we have never even touched upon.

In that case, our ability to understand is necessarily limited. The

only thing to do is to acknowledge that we cannot see the point of

view, that we have no experience to start from, and to wait with an

open mind until we are able to understand.

Curiously enough, it is precisely these persons of limited

experience who are most prone to prejudice. I have heard a man

assert with emphasis that it was every one's _duty_ to be happy, who

had apparently not a single thing in life to interfere with his own

happiness. The duty may be clear enough, but he certainly was not in

a position to recognize its difficulty. And just in proportion with

his inability to take another's point of view in such difficulty did

he miss his power to lead others to this agreeable duty.

There are, of course, innumerable things, little and big, which we

shall be enabled to give to others and to receive from others as the

true sympathy grows.

The common-sense of it all appeals to us forcibly.

Who wants to carry about a mass of personal prejudices when he can

replace them by the warm, healthy feeling of sympathetic friendship?

Who wants his nerves to be steadily irritated by various forms of

intolerance when, by understanding the other's point of view, he can

replace these by better forms of patience?

This lower relief is little compared with the higher power gained,

but it is the first step up, and the steps beyond go ever upward.

Human nature is worth knowing and worth loving, and it can never be

known or loved without open sympathy.

Why, we ourselves are human nature!

Many of us would be glad to give sympathy to others, especially in

little ways, but we do not know how to go to work about it; we seem

always to be doing the wrong thing, when our desire is to do the

right. This comes, of course, from the same inability to take the

other's point of view; and the ability is gained as we are quiet and

watch for it.

Practice, here as in everything else, is what helps. And the object

is well worth working for.