On January 20th, 2016 I participated in the Spark leadership conference hosted by the Leadership Institute. What I found to be the two main components of this conference were : finding your leadership style, and developing knowledge on the difference between sympathy and empathy.

The part of the conference that made the deepest impact on me was when we learned and discussed about inclusive leadership. The main aspect of inclusive leadership is the idea of sympathy v. empathy.

When researching the topic the definitions I found were:

Sympathy:  an affinity, association, or relationship between persons or things wherein whatever affects one similarly affects the other

Empathy:  the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner; also  :  the capacity for this

{These definitions were taken from Merriam Webster}

During Spark we participated in an activity called Alpha and Beta. In this activity the group was divided into two groups (Alpha and Beta) which were suppose to represent our “cultures”. I had participated in this activity once before from the side of a Beta, so during Spark it was fun to be on the opposite side, Alpha.

The rules to this activity are intentionally complicated. Each “culture” has their own language, social norms, and rules to follow. The Alphas and Betas were in their own classroom, but randomly throughout the game a few representatives would switch rooms. When they switch rooms the representatives would have no idea what the other cultures rules were. Because of this disconnect in cultures, communication was broken and there was tension in the was Alphas and Betas would treat each other. This represented many different disconnects in people in todays society.

Many things disconnect groups of people: language barriers, cultural differences, intellectual differences, and different life experiences and struggles. It is constantly being pushed on people to appreciate and respect diversity. Diversity should be celebrated and acknowledged, but I believe it should not be the first thing we recognize. Why can we not notice that at the root of it all, we are all so similar? We are all human, we all have our passions and disappointments. We all have goals and aspirations. We are all striving for success and happiness. But instead we see our differences, we see what sets each other apart rather than what brings us together. By acknowledging differences first, people treat  others according to them. People talk down when a language barrier is present, or see a disability. We jump to conclusions about people before knowing their history or struggle. We sympathize before we empathize.

Here is my personal antidote:

Throughout high school, I had a best friend who has Downs Syndrome. To me, my friend was not a girl with a disability. We had sleepovers and went to dinner and hung out like any other teenage friends. And like all other friends, we would joke around together and tease each other. Numerous times people would question me for the way we would talk or joke about. They would tell me “You can’t say that to her, she doesn’t understand”. This is when I get passionate about this concept. My friend did understand. When people saw us together, they only saw our differences. She is a teenage girl just like me, who likes to laugh and have fun. My friend did understand. Because of her disability, people talked down to her rather than as an equal. By connecting with my friend through our similarities first, then building through our differences, I was able to learn so much through our friendship. It has been, and will continue to be, a goal of mine to advocate for those with a disability. I want people to see each other for their similarities rather than their differences. A person is no less capable of normal relationships because of their differences. People would sympathize for my friend before they tried to understand her or empathize.

The Alpha and Beta activity at Spark really resonated with my personal experiences. I have seen others show sympathy for ones differences, but many times lack to find empathy.

Sympathy: having feelings of compassion and sensitivity towards another due to their visible differences or struggles. Acting sensitive towards those differences.

Empathy: feeling connected to those through similarities in characteristics or experiences. Being able to relate to others during hardships.

{definitions from me}

Connect through similarities then learn and build from differences.



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