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To wonder at what point sympathy turns into pity?

(24 Posts)
PhilMcAverty Mon 11-Feb-13 13:21:07

Lots of people have hard lives or miserable things happen to them, but some people elicit sympathy and others pity and I wondered at what point sympathy turns into pity?

Is it when you realise that the person is incapable of making the life changes they need to improve their life? Is it when someone has something miserable, but not that bad happen to them and they spin it into something much bigger than it is?

There have been times where I have felt huge sympathy for someone who has had to deal with a traumatic life event, but not pitied them and other times when someone has told me about something quite minor and I’ve found myself pitying them.

Does anyone else have this? When does sympathy tip over into pity?

Spero Mon 11-Feb-13 13:25:10

I have always thought 'pity' a quite horrible emotion and think it is more to do with the person feeling it than the object of that emotion.

'Pity' to me implies some superiority on the part of the pitior, looking down in someway on the other- whereas someone who is sympathetic is still seeing the other as a person iyswim.

If someone said they 'pitied' me I would want to put a boot in their face - whereas sympathy is always soothing and welcome.

PhilMcAverty Mon 11-Feb-13 13:30:42

Thats a really interesting point, Spero, that its the person making the judgement rather than the person being pitied by them.

One of the people I've pitied had a life so empty that everything was a drama, even when it wasn't. She would tell long rambling stories starting with "you wouldn't believe what happened to me today" and it would be something really small and inane. Maybe I was a bit judgemental about it. Food for thought.

Spero Mon 11-Feb-13 13:42:50

I remember quite clearly when I was younger people asking me what was wrong with my leg (have artificial leg) and almost a look of glee on their face when I told them. As if it made them feel better about their own lives? I didn't get the impression they cared or sympathised with ME.

Interestingly I don't get that stuff now I am older. Perhaps I just give off more intimidating vibes. I certainly wouldn't put up with that kind of shit for a second now.

I think with the dramallamas, it can't be 'pity' as such, more irritation plus sadness that they are,along such a pigs ear of their lives? I get irritated with the constant wringers, the ones who can always find a reason not to do anything to make it better. I certainly don't pity them.

But maybe am just utter bitch with heart of flint.

Spero Mon 11-Feb-13 13:43:32

'Making such a pigs ear' this auto correct is rubbish.

Bunfags Mon 11-Feb-13 13:47:39

Good point Spero. I think you're right, but it's not really something I've pondered much before.

SIL pities us. If we mention that we are going to spend money on anything she tilts her head to one sides and makes a pity noise because she thinks we're so poor. I don't find it endearing to be brutally honest.

PhilMcAverty Mon 11-Feb-13 13:52:38

I see what you mean. I don't pity people if they have less money than me or a more difficult life or anything like that.

Maybe your description of irritation is more accurate - the people who can't or won't do anything to make their lives better, but will moan at every opportunity about how bad things are.

Spero Mon 11-Feb-13 13:53:25

Exactly! Sympathy is engaging with you and caring. 'Pity' is saying 'I am so sorry you are such a fuck up, unlike wonderful shiny me'

Down with pity!

PhilMcAverty Mon 11-Feb-13 13:58:23

I shall change it to irritation and sadness. grin

Spero Mon 11-Feb-13 14:00:22

My work here is done.

LRDtheFeministDragon Mon 11-Feb-13 14:02:38

I reckon sympathy is when you can still think 'there but for the grace of god ...' and imagine that you'd be the same. Pity is when you can't imagine yourself in the same situation. That's why pity is sometimes quite an obnoxious emotion, because you're assuming you'd never sink to that or be that unfortunate.

Bunfags Mon 11-Feb-13 14:02:42

I think you're spot on about that Spero. I can also relate to the look of glee you mentioned previously. I've not got an artificial limb, but I've experienced it over other things. It's totally because it lets them feel all superior.

Down with pity indeed. It totally is just like saying 'I am so sorry you are such a fuck up, unlike wonderful shiny me'.

PoppyAmex Mon 11-Feb-13 14:04:36

Thats weird, I often hear people say that they hate to be pitied and what a horrible emotion it is, but I just don't see it.

In fact (technically speaking) they're synonyms in the dictionary, but I think sympathy is a pretty "light weight" emotion whilst I associate "pity" with compassion, which I think is a very positive emotion.

When something horrible happens to me, I don't people to sympathise with me, I want them to feel compassion and pity for me - I feel it's a very "human" trait.

PhilMcAverty Mon 11-Feb-13 14:05:27

Down with Pity indeed and up with Sadness. grin

Nanabana Mon 11-Feb-13 14:06:19

This is an interesting thread - I will dedinitely rein in my whinging!

PhilMcAverty Mon 11-Feb-13 14:07:20

Xpost - Interesting angle.

I certainly feel compassion for people who are having a really hard time.

PhilMcAverty Mon 11-Feb-13 14:07:54

Ach - a bit of whinging is just fine. Its when it becomes a life-choice!

Adversecamber Mon 11-Feb-13 14:08:26

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

LRDtheFeministDragon Mon 11-Feb-13 14:11:15

In terms of etymology, 'pity' is an emotion born out of duty, because you think it's the right thing to do before god. 'Sympathy' means you have a feeling with that person. They're not really synonyms IMO.

fromparistoberlin Mon 11-Feb-13 14:12:22

Is it when you realise that the person is incapable of making the life changes they need to improve their life?

you have answered your own question OP!

CailinDana Mon 11-Feb-13 14:19:01

Pity is a power thing - you tend to feel pity for people/things (such as animals) who are inferior to you in some way. Hence the saying to "take pity on someone" - i.e to give special treatment to someone because of their lesser position. I think pity implies that the object of pity is powerless in some way - they are struggling due to who they are or where they come from rather than circumstances as such. I think we tend to pity people who we can't actually relate to. Sympathy implies a sense of fellow-feeling, a sense that you can see yourself in that situation and can imagine how it feels, whereas pity implies that from your more powerful advantaged viewpoint you can concede to understanding that a situation which you'll never experience (such as famine, for example) is hard.

As a survivor of abuse I've experienced being on the receiving end of pity and sympathy. Those who would like to pity me can go jump. Even sympathy can get a bit old.

Sunnywithshowers Mon 11-Feb-13 14:36:52

I've been a recipient of pity and sympathy because we can't have kids. Sympathy - thanks loads. Pity - fuck right off with that.

PoppyAmex Mon 11-Feb-13 14:37:28

I think the use of the word has been corrupted and given a derogatory meaning, which is a shame.

I personally find "sympathy" a very distant, "comfortable" and non-invested emotion, but then again I'm Latin and I don't have a subdued emotion in my body grin

Bunfags Mon 11-Feb-13 14:39:08

"I pity you" can be used as an insult, whereas "I sympathise with you" can't.

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