Giving Back Is Noble, But Is it Motivated by Pity or Empathy?

empathyGiving back to the community is a noble thing. Our religious and political leaders encourage it. Many do this by volunteering their time to serve in underserved communities at home or abroad.


In some cases, the desire to do community service, foreign charity travel or volunteer to serve in a rural area may be motivated by a feeling of pity for those in need. My observation is that a feeling of pity for the needy creates the status of a boss, a provider or a superior for the giver. A service that is inspired by a feeling of pity accomplishes little. Sometimes, it does more harm than good.


To make real impact on people and communities, a service should be inspired by empathy. This is where you go to the communities with the desire to learn and understand them. You put yourself in their shoes; you enter their head and feel their feelings. It is by doing so that you in partnership with the communities can address the problems they have.


Pity can lead you impose yourself on people and prescribe to them your solutions. Empathy gets you into partnership with the people and communities to solve the problems the have.


I’m still fascinated by the number of churches, non-profits and private citizens from many countries that are helping communities across parts of Africa, Latin America and Asia to fight poverty and diseases. On the other hand, I can only imagine what the impact would be if these missions were driven by empathy and not mere pity for the other folks.


Before you embark on any volunteer program, community service, charity project, ask whether it is driven by pity or empathy.

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