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When tears are not enough ... the difference between sympathy and empathy.

Updated on August 21, 2012
Choosing the right stone is important in Iran.
Choosing the right stone is important in Iran. | Source

First choose your stone ...

There can be few intelligent people in our world who do not know that Iran still uses stoning as a method of carrying out the death penalty. At least I hope they know ... and are outraged. This primitive practise is Iranian law and their version of justice.

But did you also know that the throwers of the stones, the executioners if you like, have to be careful to choose the right size stone otherwise they too are breaking the law?

Evidently the stone has to be big enough to be actually called 'a stone' ... but it must not be too big as that might kill the victim too quickly. It is against Article 104 of the Iranian Penal Code to choose a stone that will 'kill the convict by one or two throws'. It would appear that the object is to cause as much suffering before death as possible. Mercy is rarely an option.

The good news is that Amnesty International believe that this Neolithic form of legalised killing may however be presently under review by the Iranian authorities. Amnesty hopes that their long-standing commitment to getting this form of execution stopped may be realised as soon as next year.

(For those interested in supporting their campaign against stoning please see )

I could have included a YouTube video of an actual stoning in this hub, Heaven knows there are enough of them. I didn't because such a public and atrocious death is not something I believe should be gawped at in a spirit of prurient curiosity.

It is simply enough to imagine the terror and pain ...

Military boots ... and crutches.
Military boots ... and crutches. | Source
This photo is from 1946 ... but starving in the gutter is still with us.
This photo is from 1946 ... but starving in the gutter is still with us. | Source

Get activated ...

I realise the subject of this hub is far from the usual cute & fluffy subjects on HubPages but I make no apologies for that.

This is a call to arms, even if those arms are computers and wallets, marches and speeches. It is a call to support crusading organisations, organisations such as Amnesty and Avaaz.

These organisations exist to fight for the dispossessed and disadvantaged, the legally murdered, the victimised and for those who have lost what little power they had to defend their rights.

They are the activists, the world's defenders and the least the rest of us less-motivated individuals can do is support them in any way we can by signing their on-line petitions and these are truly effective, believe me.

We can also give small, but regular, donations. Despite currently feeling the pinch financially many of us could give a little each month.

And before the outrage starts here I'm not talking to those of you who are in danger of losing your homes, those of you who have no work.

I'm talking to those of us who still have work and homes, those of you who can afford to skip just one cappuccino a month, buy one less celebrity trivia magazine a month, buy one less burger a month.

Despite being only a modest investment in justice, such a regular donation is a godsend to these organisations as they feel they can rely on it to plan ahead on their campaigns.

So which has the most value ... sympathy or empathy?

Whilst most of us feel sympathetic towards people who endure the sometimes unspeakable atrocities perpetrated by others in our world, sympathy is a rather more limp-wristed, if entirely natural, response.

People can be easily moved to tears by starving children, beaten women, injured young soldiers. But once the images pass so does the sympathy and the sight of all that suffering is forgotten until the next round of images.

Empathy on the other hand is entirely different. It is the ability not just to understand but to also be able to share the feelings of others. It is being able to almost feel what it must be like to be buried in sand up to one's chest and wait to be stoned to death.

No-one who can empathise with these sorts of tribulations can remain inactive. Empathy burns a memory into the soul.

It is not necessary to burst into tears at the plight of others but it is necessary to stand up and be counted. As my old granny used to say, 'A little help is worth a lot of sympathy'. Those of us who empathise get stuck in.

We are the activists and it does not matter whether or not we shed tears of sympathy as long as we 'try and do something about it'.

Most of us recognise iniquity and inhumanity, even if it is the cultural norm in another country, and gradually more and more of us are willing to take action to try and eradicate, or at least limit, it.

Only unfortunate people with personality disorders such as autism, or those who have serious brain under-functioning such as psycopaths, lack the ability to be truly empathic, to put themselves in another's shoes, and that is their personal tragedy.

For the rest of us there is no such excuse.

Empathy is the only emotion, apart from righteous anger perhaps, that has made a difference in the fight against injustice and blind cruelty.

It is a powerful personal attribute to cultivate and should be constantly exercised on behalf of the less fortunate.

It is now time to take our minds out of our own little world, our own self-centred concerns and look outwards. There is a huge world out there and it is not just there for holiday trips ... the time is long overdue to recognise the rights and needs of the rest of humanity.

Make your mark, live with honour and stand up for world justice.


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