The Keywords Project is a collaborative research initiative investigating ‘key’ words prominently used in social debate in English. Different meanings available for each keyword – varying both in specific sense and in evaluative implication – can confuse rather than progress discussion in which the word is used.
Public discourse typically aligns empathy with compassion rather than sympathy. The news media for instance have applauded Pope Francis I for his compassion or empathy with the poor ever since his election as leader of the Roman Catholic Church in 2013;
in India, an emerging politics of empathy has focused on Dalits, people who were traditionally regarded as ‘untouchable’ and who still suffer social stigmatization.
For 21c political, religious or humanitarian discourse, it appears, sympathy no longer suffices.
Only the deeper sentiment of empathy promises to solve social ills, through a process that involves simultaneous recognition and negation of differences between people in order to achieve better mutual understanding