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Life will be much better if people especially those in the service industry or those who plan for public amenities were able to empathize rather than sympathize with the users or consumers of those services. Empathy is the ability of putting our feet in other peoples’ shoes that is the power of a deeper understanding of someone else’s emotion as opposed to sympathy which is defined as the general feeling of sharing the emotion of another person.

From the above definitions one can conclude that if we have empathy we would be able to do more for people. We would be more caring and do things as if it were for our use or that of our loved ones. Clearly empathy involves more commitment and the feeling of guilt if we do not perform to the best of our ability.

Can empathy be learned? I believe people who are emphatic are those who have gone through certain experiences in their life and are not traumatized by them. Trauma could cause people to be in denial or be indifferent and therefore might possibly fail to empathize later.

I believe people who are born with a silver spoon and have never been exposed to real problems would find it hard to empathize with others unless they are religiously inclined. So you see some politicians and businessmen who are not truly empathic but behave as if they are. Their body language would give them away. Consequently, people who travel in a private jet would find it hard to empathize with people who travel with an ordinary airline.

Sympathizing is a lot easier as it does not involve an emotional understanding. It is more detached.

For people who provide services I would wish that they possess empathy. And so I read with much trepidation about Air Asia’s boss, Tony Fernandes, obstinately refusing to use aerobridges at Malaysian airports despite the appeals by local disabled passengers. Instead he is reported to have said that the low cost terminal in Singapore also does not provide aerobridges.

What empathy-lacking Fernandes has forgotten is Malaysia is a much larger country with a much larger population. Consequently the number of disabled people who fly are more here and they have to travel farther to states such as Sabah and Sarawak for example so the comparison with Singapore is not really valid because of its different population and geographical profile.

More disabled flying in Malaysia

More so Tony Fernandes is not empathic with those disabled persons as he is thoroughly focused on profit making. If he were to be able to feel what those people experience, he would be more receptive of the appeal. After all the cost of using the bridge per passenger is very minimal. I wish to call upon Fernandes to imagine how he would feel if he were in a wheel chair traveling in a plane and not using an aerobridge especially when it rains at the point of disembarkation!

Empathic service providers, civil servants,politicians and entrepreneurs would ensure what they give or present through their projects, programs and services are what their clients would want and by the same token, what they themselves would want.

Life would be easier and more satisfying if these service providers are empathic without sacrificing quality and other bottomlines.

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