General Studies Paper 4 (Ethics): Sympathy, Empathy and Compassion


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Syllabus: General Studies Paper 4 (Ethics)


Define the terms – Sympathy, Empathy and Compassion. How are they different from each other? Justify with suitable examples.



Sympathy, Empathy and Compassion are separate terms with some very important distinctions. Empathy is viscerally feeling what another feels. Sympathy means you can understand what the person is feeling. Compassion is the willingness to relieve the suffering of another.



  • Empathy means that you feel what a person is feeling. empathy arise automatically when we witness someone in pain
  • For example, if we see a person who slams a car door on his fingers, we may feel pain in our fingers as well. 
  • We may not always automatically feel how another is feeling, and that’s when we need to rely on our imagination. Most likely heard phrase “Put yourself in someone else’s shoes.” That’s the other route to being an empathetic person.


  • To feel sympathy, it means to understand what the person is feeling.
  • With sympathy, one can understand or imagine why someone is either going through a hard time or why someone might be feeling happy or sad.
  • For example, if someone’s father has passed away, you may not be able to viscerally feel that person’s pain. However, you can employ your cognitive skills to understand that your friend is sad.


  • Compassion takes empathy and sympathy a step further. When we are compassionate, we feel the pain of another (i.e., empathy) or we recognize that the person is in pain (i.e., sympathy), and then we do your best to alleviate the person’s suffering from that situation.
  • When you’re compassionate, you’re not running away from suffering, you’re not feeling overwhelmed by suffering, and you’re not pretending the suffering doesn’t exist. When you are practicing compassion, you can stay present with suffering.
  • Showing compassion can help gain perspective or a new point of view because it puts us in someone else’s shoes and makes us to put time and thought into alleviating someone’s suffering.



A public servant must possess all the three qualities depending on situation. A civil servant, an IAS Officer should be compassionate in a manner that motivates her/him with a desire to help the sufferings or misfortune instead of just feeling sympathetic. He cannot simply observe the things going on. He has to put laws into action to help the needy section.

The above mentioned qualities can be explained by the work done by PS Pradyumna, A civil servant who understood the pain of common people and  showed compassion towards  the needy people  

PS Pradyumna

  • Initiating construction of one lakh individual toilets under Palle Nidra programme to water conservation in drought prone under Handri Neeva project, this Andhra cadre officer is a man on the mission.  
  • Pradyumna started ‘Palle Vanam’ in Chittoor district – a rural afforestation programme that will create natural green spots with benches and walking tracks for villagers. 
  • Pradyumna also started another programme to enhance the security of the women. He started Nirbhaya Patrolling in which women cops on electric bicycles keep an eye on eve-teasers around  colleges, bus stop and other areas prone to crime against girls.
  • To help farmers, he started centres from where farmers could hire farming equipment at decent rents.
  • He also started Yashoda campaign to teach basic English and computer to Anganwadis workers alongside best practices in community mobilisation, health and nutrition.



A public servant must possess all the three qualities depending on situation. Public servants are meant to serve and this requires developing a humanistic outlook and to go out-of-the way. These qualities ensure that the public servants act sensitively and interpret the rules so as to advance public interest. This is all the more important in a country like India where most the citizens are not aware of their rights and obligations owing to their socio-economic conditions rather than out of ignorance. In their absence, the administration will become mechanistic, rigid and ineffective.


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