Blog: Empathy vs. Pity

    Ammulett was my favorite. She was a ten year old Leonberger girl who was one of the most dignified dogs I knew, and had no tolerance for shenanigans of any kind. If I tried to put a hat on her head, she would flip it off immediately, then give me a look that said, ‘Let’s not do that again.’ When I wanted to teach her a trick, she would do it once so I would know she knew what I wanted, but never again. She didn’t see the point in rolling over. Begging for a treat by using theatrics was beneath her when she could get the same results by giving me a kiss and when she played in the play yard with forty other dogs, she took her place on the high ground of the yard so as to better survey what she must have imagined was her kingdom. In many ways it was. One by one the other dogs, big and small, would come pay homage with a lick or a play bow. She had a great sense of humor. She just didn’t waste it on the nutty stuff and I learned early in her life that acting silly wasn’t her cup of tea. At least not in public.

    I tell you these things because when she was seven years old, she had a spinal cord stroke and for a short time was not able to move her backend. Not very dignified for a queen. After several weeks, she managed to be able to move about, but she was noticeably compromised. Life rolled on and we adjusted where we needed.  Sometimes she didn’t know when she had to pooh and it would just tumble out unknown to her. She needed help to get up after lying down or sitting and I had to lift her into bed every night. Just little things really. But always, she was her true self, a monarch in her kingdom.

    A dog’s sense of dignity is honest. They have no pity for themselves because it provides no movement forward. There is no ‘I used to be’, no ‘I wish this was different’ or I want to be like Biscuit down the street who runs about.’  It is a lesson well worth learning.

As Human Beings we tend to employ pity when empathy is all that is needed. Pity is something that causes sadness, disappointment or a lack of forward motion. And we use it plenty on ourselves. Poor me. It is stagnant. Empathy is motion and given to others. You can share an experience with someone and understand their feelings without applying any negative energy to the situation.

    Ammulett needed help to get to her feet. She did not find this a situation to be pitied but she did need the empathy of someone to assist her. There was not one read of ‘poor me’ in her. Come to think of it, she had the body language that said, ‘I have been waiting awhile.’ Head always high, sitting straight and looking right at me. That is what empathy allows, dignity. Pity is void of dignity. Void of honor.  It has no respect for you or who you pity.

    Every living thing has had difficulties. Some days are hard, some days are wonderful. That is life in motion. Let us keep moving forward with empathy and not pity. Let us take lesson on life from our companions.

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