Random Thoughts: Empathy vs Sympathy

Awhile ago, I had this conversation with my brother. He asked me what was the difference between Empathy and Sympathy, and I would like to explore this subject a little further.


For me, at its core, Sympathy is showing generosity, kindness, or sometimes pity to to the subject. I am not saying it is bad or weak… but it is easy. I am not saying it is bad, just it is not hard to do.

Empathy is something entirely different. Empathy, at its core, is about understanding a subject, and almost has nothing to do with kindness. Because of this nature, it is objectively more difficult to achieve than Sympathy.


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Let’s talk about some examples. I think the character of Lelouche from Code Geass is very empathetic. I can undestand where his motivations and means of execution comes from. I can understand him in that regard. But at the same time, it is hard to feel sympathy for a guy. He has killed hundreds of people including his family members, manipulated people to do horrible deeds, and sabotaged relationships. Lelouche is a terrible person.

Similarly, Walt White from Breaking Bad is a horrible human being, but you kind of get him. You empathize with this horrible king pin. But you do not feel sympathy for the guy.


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Let’s talk about the opposite. Sympathy without empathy. This for me is easy. Just make something cute, and make be pitiful. Say something like Satania from Gabriel Dropout. She is cute in design, and her stupidity makes you want to protect her from smart people. But she is not a empathetic character. Do you understand how her mind works? There is no empathy for her because she is just not that well written a character.


So now let’s talk about character that is both empathetic and sympathetic. It’s not like this is uncommon. To be empathetic, we need to know the characters well, what is their goal? What do they like and dislike? What is their history?

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I think Guts from Berserk meets this very well. He is sympathetic as he frequently vanquishes evil and has a sad back story. But we’ve seen so many sides of him that we understand him. During his love making scene with Casca, he freaks out and attacks her. But we know where that comes from and why, we understand him. Empathy takes work, and Kentarou Miura put a lot of work into showing many faces of Guts.


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The opposite of the above is amazingly simple, just write a shitty character that sucks. Any two bit villain that people hate.

Well, here are just some of my thoughts. Let me know what you think!



5 thoughts on “Random Thoughts: Empathy vs Sympathy

  1. Woah, that’s amazingly cool way to get something deep out there!
    I totally agree, another example would be Koro sensei from assassination classroom for both. I guess?
    I mean, I totally understand why he is how he is now, and I feel bad for him, so both empathy and sympathy?

    Liked by 1 person

      1. This is major spoiler….
        Sorry, had to get that done, I’ve spoiled so many books for myself by reading comments. He’s an assassin and killed like tons of people. He gets betrayed by his own student and sent to a laboratory where they experiment on him. He falls in love only to have the woman killed, effectively shutting out his emotions and turning into a monster.
        I put it really short, so it’s not very accurate but that’s the essence of it.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I have to disagree just a tiny bit, I think “Pity” shouldn’t be associated with sympathy, as sympathy is the ability to care about another persons suffering. If you feel pity for someone I think you’re only acknowledging suffering. Empathy is a step up from sympathy, as you can actually feel someones suffering. I agree with the core of both Empathy and sympathy, but I think both are inherently hard to to feel when you don’t care for the object. Great subject to cover though, I often forget how these two play a part in characters.


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