Empathy and pity… are these words synonymous, or are they worlds apart? The first definition for pity is “the feeling of sorrow and compassion caused by the suffering and misfortune of others.” However, empathy is differentiated from pity by a single, beautiful phrase: to understand and share. Should we feel sorry for others, or should we strive to understand and share in their struggles?
By its very definition, pity suggests that my stutter wasn’t really supposed to happen. It implies that stuttering is a tragic mistake that keeps me from enjoying life. Pity is feeling sorry for the sadness and the suffering that stuttering must bring. In other words, pity dwells in the darkness, instead of stepping into the light. It only sees the negative, when in reality, there is so much more to stuttering. My stutter is not a mistake. My stutter brings me sadness sometimes, but it also brings me incredible joy. It has not kept me from enjoying life; it has made me love it even more. Please, do not pity my stutter.
While pity only sees the condition, empathy goes one step further to see the person. To be honest, I need to work on this in my own life. Feeling empathy for others means that we begin to understand how they feel and what they see. As we seek to truly understand someone’s condition, we slowly begin to share in their feelings, too, although we can never fully understand what someone else feels. The truth is that I do not want people to feel sorry for me. I do not want people to be sad for me, because I am not sad. I am on an amazing journey to embrace all the wonderful gifts stuttering can give me.
Of course, I do desire for people to understand how difficult life can be for someone who stutters. Stuttering can be extremely difficult, but I don’t want people to miss all the blessings I have experienced from stuttering. I want people to share in this journey and grow with me. I believe true empathy acknowledges the struggle and feels the heartache, but then it encourages us to thrive in spite of it all.
My greatest desire is for people to see that being different is not something to be pitied. Rather, it is something to be felt, to be understood, and most of all, to be celebrated.
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The Stuttering Foundation provides free online resources, services and support to those who stutter and their families, as well as support for research into the causes of stuttering.