Sympathy Or Empathy
Posted July 6, 2012on:
I chatted recently with another person who stutters about the best way to listen to a stutterer. We were responding to a question posed by a SLP graduate student posed on an on-line stuttering forum.
The student doesn’t stutter, and wondered what people who do stutter prefer for listeners to do or say.
Most people indicated that people should listen to a person who stutters the same way you would listen to anyone else – with patience, presence and respect.
I chimed in that sometimes a person looks uncomfortable or averts their eyes or nervously giggles or laughs. Then I might disclose or advertise that I stutter to let the other person know what to expect. When I do that, sometimes the listener understands more fully that it is stuttering they hear and they don’t have to react differently than normal.
This brought up the difference between sympathy and empathy. The person I was talking with felt that when we advertise stuttering, that alone may lead the person to treat us differently, maybe even inadvertently with pity. He felt that advertising brings attention to our stuttering and therefore away from normalcy.
He felt that we should not say anything about it, and expect the listener to just listen as they would with anyone else. Most listeners will default to empathy and listen respectfully.
I am not so sure about this. I think that if someone does not know you and does not know what stuttering is, the default reaction might be laughter, surprise or impatience. It seems best in some situations to disclose, so that both stutterer and listener can be at ease.
There is obviously a real difference between sympathy and empathy as it applies to listening to someone who stutters.
What do you think?