Deb Brandon: Living in Radiant Color

Look Me in the Eye

Pity is condescending, pity dehumanizes. When people pity you, they avoid making eye contact; they look right through you, without seeing you. Pity is about judging without listening, it’s about being thankful that they are not in your shoes. Pity is egocentric.
There is nothing egocentric about sympathy. To be sympathetic you have to care, to want to give comfort; you wish you could do something to help, and feel frustrated when you believe there is nothing you can do. Sympathy is about listening, though not necessarily hearing the whole story.
There are definitely times when I embrace sympathy, when I need someone to rub my back, to hug me. But most of the time, I am not looking for sympathy. In fact there are times when sympathy is misplaced and only gets in the way.
Empathy, on the other hand, is always welcome. Empathy is about making eye contact, trying to see the person within. It’s about working to understand while realizing that full understanding is only possible if you’ve walked a similar path. Empathy is about actively seeking ways to help, wanting to find solutions, to ease the way. Empathy is about listening and hearing.
Empathy is one of the main reasons I tell my story. I want people to understand, to accept me as I am, to accept us as we are—brain injury survivors.