Sympathy, Empathy and Compassion are three words which are often misunderstood or misinterpreted.
There’s a time and place when each of them is appropriate.
You should have sympathy for a person (or animal) that is in a painful condition through no fault of his or her own, and not in a position to alleviate the pain without help.
Sympathy is a feeling of care and concern for someone, often someone close, accompanied by a wish to see him better off or happier. It is not the same as pity.
Empathy is often confused with pity, sympathy, and compassion, which are each reactions to the plight of others.
Empathy is knowing that some momentary pain will result in a long time benefit. Doctors for example, must have empathy, not sympathy for their patients.
Compassion is like empathy on steroids. Compassion is putting yourself into the shoes of an innocent person that is suffering from an inescapable situation that nobody can do anything about at the moment, such as a child living in a war zone.
When you exude the appropriate feelings for others, you help them even when you can’t directly. I once heard my good friend Wally (famous) Amos describe his feelings when a loud siren in Waikiki interrupts the solitude he is enjoying. He say’s to himself, “Somebody is in distress and help is on the way.” That has stuck with me for many years.