Sympathy is fellow feeling; the quality of being affected by the affection of another, with feelings by the affection of another, with feelings correspondent in kind, if not in degree. We feel sympathy for another when we see him in distress, or when we are informed of his distresses. This sympathy is a correspondent feeling of pain or regret. Sympathy is produced through the medium of organic impression. An agreement of affections or inclinations, or a conformity of natural temperament, which makes two persons pleased with each other. In medicine, a correspondence of various parts of the body in similar sensations or affections; or an affection of the whole body or some part of it, in consequence of an injury or disease of another part, or of a local affection. Thus a contusion on the head will produce nausea and vomiting. This is said to be by sympathy or consent of parts. In natural history, a propension of inanimate things to unite, or to act on each other. Thus we say, there is a sympathy between the lodestone and iron.Webster’s American Dictionary

“Sympathy must become empathy.”—Edna Lister

Sympathy is an emotional affinity—whatever affects one correspondingly affects the other. Sympathy is a form of pity, which is dangerous, for those who pity others usually desire the same in return. Sympathy fosters weakness. Sympathy must become empathy.

Empathy, which is important in the development of a moral sense, is "the ability to imagine oneself in another’s place and understand the other’s feelings, desires, ideas, motives, and actions." Many writers in the Victorian Era conflated sympathy and empathy.

Edna Lister on Sympathy

If you’re miserable because no one understands or sympathizes with you, take stock. You cannot blame an enemy’s enjoyment of your discomfort if you squirm every time you are hurt. If you show that you’re sitting on the point of the pin every time something hits you, you can count on more blows.—Edna Lister, "Taking Stock," Let’s Fly, 1933 and Life in a Nutshell, 1942.

Sympathy, in its highest and best form, is the strong hand that does for the weak and afflicted in time of stress what their right reasoning would do for others. It is not weeping with the afflicted, it is showing the law of God being manifest and the understanding made clear.—Edna Lister, February 22, 1936.

Sympathy inflates the little self. The little self needs only some unwarranted and foolish so-called sympathy from the outer to inflate itself, and the downward push, if not checked, becomes the slide into oblivion.—Edna Lister, November 14, 1939.

The world vibration flows through the solar plexus in subconscious waves, which is why your mood can suddenly darken into sympathy for the person you’re working to lift.—Edna Lister,—Edna Lister, A Design for Ascension, 1941.

Most folks want free sympathy and understanding without giving anything in return.—Edna Lister, "Give to Get," Life in a Nutshell, 1942.

Some would rather have the world’s sympathy than live in joy and always be joyful.—Edna Lister, December 30, 1946.

If you are in sympathy with another’s bitterness, you will eventually sicken of their criticism.—Edna Lister, June 3, 1948.

Compassion is not self-centered sympathy.—Edna Lister, To Seek the Light, June 10, 1951.

Tears that fall from your heart are worth more than tears that fall from your eyes. If you weep tears of self-sympathy, you fall into the mud puddle you create.—Edna Lister, The Magic in the Sky, October 5, 1952.

Compassion nourishes, but sympathy starves the soul. No one can afford soft sympathy, but everyone can afford to be firmly compassionate.—Edna Lister, The Magic in the Sky, October 5, 1952.

Sympathy stops short of love, recognizes, names and declares the darkness, then commiserates sentimentally.—Edna Lister, Surrender and Transfiguration, July 12, 1953.

You don’t need any sympathy from the world, it just creates more soul debts.—Edna Lister, November 18, 1953.

Sympathy, which is a sign of weakness, flips another’s self-pity switch. His sympathy encourages your self-pity and vice versa.—Edna Lister, Your Life’s Goal, May 30, 1954.

The world vibration or composite subconscious world mind whirls up through your feet to swamp you when you look out horizontally or down at the negative. Pour out compassion, which is Christ consciousness, instead of sympathy that only opens you farther to the world mind influx.—Edna Lister, The Golden Silence, June 18, 1954.

Some would rather wallow in weak sympathy instead of strong compassion.—Edna Lister, December 5, 1954.

Law gives you no sympathy when you are in a place of your own choice and making. You may wallow in it, lean on someone, or choose to make it a place of glory.—Edna Lister, April 14, 1956.

You can go off track on another’s vibration of sympathy.—Edna Lister, Being Without Self, November 2, 1958.

If you want constant sympathy, you receive only that reward.—Edna Lister, Doing Without Thought of Reward, November 9, 1958.

Develop empathy, which is born of Christlike compassion, because self-based sympathy invites life to kick your teeth in.—Edna Lister, Doing Without Thought of Reward, November 9, 1958.

You conquer self-pitying emotions by holding the Master’s hand, receiving his compassion, not needing outer sympathy.—Edna Lister, May 11, 1959.

Compassion isn’t emotional sentimentality or sympathy that undermines another’s strength, but a quiet, nurturing love that encourages growth. Compassion lives in the light of love. Sentimental emotional sympathy lives in the darkness of self.—Edna Lister, Three Covenants Between God and Man, December 15, 1959.

Compassion is strong and helpful, but sympathy is emotional and weak.—Edna Lister, April 22, 1960.

Self clings. It is subtle and you may not permit it to seek sympathy or understanding on the outside.—Edna Lister, July 19, 1961.

Empathy is compassion without sympathy or sentimentality.—Edna Lister, April 17, 1962.

You are off the beam if you think or speak idle words, feel sorry, or sympathy. You cannot use these taints of self to learn lessons.—Edna Lister, November 13, 1963.

Do not let tears hold you back, but go on and learn the lesson—empathy without sympathy and compassion without sentimentality.—Edna Lister, October 1, 1964.

Sympathy is self indulgence.—Edna Lister, February 4, 1965.

Speak in brisk tones of love or remain silent. You may nod your head but never sympathize emotionally or verbally. Use only strong compassion and remain high in consciousness.—Edna Lister, January 17, 1968.

When compassion degenerates, it drops into the sympathy, which causes it to degenerate into maudlin sentimentality.—Edna Lister, March 10, 1968.

Sympathy must become empathy.—Edna Lister, How to Make a Just Appraisal, May 14, 1968.

Pity another, and you’ll pity yourself.—Edna Lister, Undated Papers, 1924-1971.

Top ↑

Edna Miriam Lister
The original Christian Pioneering Mystic,
Platonist philosopher, American Idealist, Founder, Society of the Universal Living Christ, minister, teacher, author, wife, and mother.

Edna Lister

Etymology for sympathy: Latin sympathia, from Greek sumpatheia, from sumpathes, "affected by like feelings."

Sympathy tends to emotional weakness and is thus a soul taint.


Harper, Douglas. Online Etymology Dictionary, 2024.

The Holy Bible. King James Version (KJV).

Merriam-Webster Dictionary. 2023

Webster, Noah. Webster’s American Dictionary. New York: S. Converse, 1828.

Related Topics