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State the defining characteristics of Empathy, sympathy and compassion.

Topic:  Aptitude and foundational values for Civil Service, integrity, impartiality and non-partisanship, objectivity, dedication to public service, empathy, tolerance and compassion towards the weaker-sections.

6. State the defining characteristics of Empathy, sympathy and compassion. (250 words)

Reference: Ethics by Lexicon Publications

Why this question:

The question is from the static portions of GS paper IV and aims to define the chief characteristics of the virtues of Empathy, sympathy and compassion.

Key demand of the question:

The answer must define, compare and contrast the three elements of Empathy, sympathy and compassion in detail.

Structure of the answer:


Define first – Empathy, sympathy and compassion in general.


Compare and contrast the three terms – Empathy is often confused with sympathy, pity and compassion, which are merely recognition of another person’s distress. Sympathy typically implies that the suffering person does not “deserve” what has happened to him or her and is powerless to do anything about it. Empathy is a skilled response, while sympathy is reactive responses, which is why developing the skill of empathy is a more realistic goal for public services. Empathy does include elements of sympathy and compassion, but it also carries pertinent connotations that both sympathy and compassion lack. Empathy seems to suggest a response to situations whose features are more subtle, imperceptible and complex which require cognitive skills to perceive, share, understand and put into action. Define the key characteristics of each and substantiate the same with suitable examples.


Conclude by reasserting the significance of each one in practicing ethics.