It’s Not That Bad – Empathy vs Sympathy


“It’s not that bad.”

Said in compassion, these are still four words that nullify another person’s experience.

It takes away their right to mourn, to grieve, to experience defeat or loss. It says, “YOU don’t know how you feel, but I do.”

I used to be guilty of this, and probably will be again at some point if I am not present. It’s natural for us to want to minimize someone’s suffering or to offer a different perspective (especially if WE are the problem!) and so we say:

“It’s not that bad.”

If you really want to connect with someone and help them, you have to be willing to take a risk, to open yourself up, to be okay with pain.

Instead of taking away someone’s right to their experience, help them understand it on their own terms, in their own way.

Ask, “How bad is it?”

And allow the reply.

It might be uncomfortable to hear the truth, but it’s the only way to get through something, really process it and grow.

“How bad is it?”

Now you can have a healing conversation.

Because sometimes it’s really bad, and a burden too hard to carry.

And sometimes it’s not so bad after all, once someone is allowed to look at the situation without constraints or conditions.

A lot of people feel that you must NEVER focus on the bad or bad things will happen. Just keep your mind exclusively positive ALL the time.

That is denying the very purpose and path of experience and growth. That philosophy can be unhealthy when taken to extremes.

If you don’t freely acknowledge where the struggles are and what they are, you simply steal your opportunity to learn!

This also works for the state of the world.

And it’s a very good way to diagnose something honestly and then to work toward making it better.

After all, once you know how deep it goes, you have the map for getting back out again.

And so, “How bad is it” can eventually become, “So what’s left that’s good?” And “How much more amazing can it get?”

There is hope for you, for me, for All Our Relations.

And it starts by allowing the truth of the moment, of a struggle, of a feeling, to be expressed.

It starts with that level of gentle kindness and humility.

Hiy hiy


Theresa Wiseman, Nursing Scholar, studied very diverse professions where empathy is relevant and came up with four qualities of empathy:

  1. Perspective taking, the ability to take the perspective of another person
  2. Staying out of judgement
  3. Recognizing emotion in other people
  4. Communicating that recognition

Empathy is a choice and its a vulnerable choice.


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Here You Go!

Everyone Is Invited To The Feast
Acrylic, Gold Leaf
On Canvas
(click on image to enlarge)

I wanted to paint something that made me very happy. Although it took a very long time to complete, for me it was well worth the effort and the seemingly endless days!

As you can see, everyone is coming to the feast, guests are still arriving, and there will be something for everyone on the table. The celebration will last as long as there is something to celebrate. In other words, it just won’t stop!

Some people might not come to the feast. They doubt there will be enough left over for them. Others will grab as much as they can and run away, thinking that the pie might run out so they better get theirs while the getting’s good! And then there are those who will take a bite of this or that, never stopping, never savouring, just trying to fill a hole that they think is one kind of hunger, but is really another. Sadly, what will be left behind is a bit of a mess!

Some might show up empty handed, feeling out of place and awkward, feeling that they really don’t have much to offer. But they do! Once they sit down at the table, their company will be another type of nourishment for their companions.

Still others will be happily serving, clearing up, filling plates and glasses, making sure as many as have want or need are getting their fill.

In the end, what you bring to the feast is what you will get. Hopefully, hopefully, when you sit down at that warm, heavy laden table that just groans with all the good things it has to share, you’ll bring a happy heart. Or at least, a heart that is willing to be happy! Sometimes just being open is all we’ll need. Even if it’s just a tiny, teensy, microscopic crack. Yes, even just the hope of a crack will be sufficient.

Welcome to the feast, everyone!

There is enough and more.

Dig in!



You Can Take it With You
Mixed Media
on Paper
3′ x 4′
Mixed Media
on Canvas


Our hearts are locked inside us, safe, beating away the minutes like the determined sound of a deep, dark drum. The warrior takes his heart out of his chest. It is touched by the air, by the sun, by snow and rain. Anyone who passes by can reach out and touch the warrior’s heart. It is sensitive and vulnerable, and can easily feel the soft brush of tears. It beats to the song of creation, and all who pass by can feel it in their bodies, their own heart responding , aligning, and breathing with that implacable rhythm. It is fierce and active and filled with fire.

The raven attacks the open heart at the same time as he protects it, caught between entropy and the growth of new stories, new moments, untold and unfinished lives. There are new worlds forming, called into being by the unstoppable heart…and raven, the carrion eater, will do as he must, and bring them light.