Empathy is a word often used to define a trait that Samaritans’ Volunteer Listeners are required to demonstrate in their day to day work. Empathy is defined (Shorter Oxford English Dictionary) as ‘… the power of mentally identifying oneself with (and so fully comprehending) a person or object of contemplation.’  Empathy is contrasted with the word ‘sympathy’, defined (op. cit.) as ‘…  a favourable attitude with feelings of pity and sorrow for the suffering or grief of another; an expression of compassion or condolence’.  

The ability to  understand and feel what others are feeling by placing oneself in the other persons ‘shoes’, (as it were),  is more intimate and immediate than feeling or expressing sympathy from a somewhat detached perspective.

Compassion is a broader term than empathy encompassing a wider form of care and concern for others’ well-being. Compassion, care and empathy are said to be the cornerstone of health and social care in any society. Volunteers join Samaritans because they want to make a positive difference to the lives of others in need of help.

Psychologists who examined the lives of care workers concluded that those most effective, developed in themselves traits of compassion, hope, optimism, self-efficacy, and resilience, along with a continued commitment to their profession.

Whatever the Samaritans of Spain undertake to do in the public sphere are grounded on empathetic listening and based on a solid moral and ethical foundation.

Migel Jayasinghe 


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