What’s the difference between empathic and empathetic?
I was thinking about two words today: empathic and empathetic. The two words are interchangeable but one of them has a much more positive connotation than the other. Empathic and empathetic: can you guess which is the better choice?
Up until this point I used the word empathetic with more frequently than the word empathic, because it sounds like empathy. But, when I break down each word, empathetic has the word pathetic within it which has a very negative connotation, whereas the word empathic has the words empath and path within it. Neither of which has a negative connotation and at least one of which has a very positive connotation. Obviously this is not an etymological analysis of the words; it’s a linguistic analysis of what people hear, regardless of one’s actual, intended meaning.
I’m going to adjust my language and use the word empathic with greater frequency than the word empathetic because I believe it will be more effective when I convey ideas related to empathy.
Meaningful, Purposeful Discourse
I try to choose my words very carefully in conversation because I think in terms of outcomes. I’m a human being, and sometimes I slip. My stoicism helps with grounding myself after such a slip-up. I’m able to accept the mistakes I’ve made, to learn from them, and to move forward.
Generally, when I have a conversation with a person, the outcomes that I want are that I persuade them to agree with a certain idea, that I provide meaningful leadership to someone who finds value in my advice, or that I am enlightened by them with new information that I didn’t previously have. These are all good outcomes.
A negative outcome would be that which is derived from a conversation in which two people approach it with the idea that there can only be one winner and one loser. This zero-sum game can work in the short-term. It feels good to get that dopamine hit when you own somebody else in a conversation you make them submit to your ideas, because you’ve pushed them into a corner and they have no other choice. It feels good to make people feel bad sometimes, but the long-term outcome of such a conversation is not generally the long-term outcome that either party wants. Generally, all participants in a conversation should walk away feeling good, feeling inspired, and feeling a sense of relief.
Responsible Free Speech
I am not one to restrict other people’s language in any way. You should be free to use any word that you want at any time you so choose. But, I would encourage you to think in terms of outcomes, and context.
A comedian could use what I might consider being offensive language, but the context is one in which people want to be entertained. They attend comedy club events, and watch stand-up comedy on TV with the expectation that they will be presented with challenging, uncomfortable ideas with which they may not agree. But, they’re okay with that; they’re actually paying for that experience.
In a conversation where a person knowingly uses language that they expect the other person to find offensive, the outcome is very different. The context is very different, and the response can be very different. For these reasons, I do my best to approach conversations by first thinking in terms of outcomes, and I choose my words very carefully. I hope that more people would do the same.