A Beginner’s Guide to Empathy

It seems many people missed out on or have forgotten childhood lessons in basic empathy. So here are a few do’s and don’ts when someone tells you about something terrible they experienced.


  1. Listen.
    Sometimes the greatest act of kindness is to allow someone to tell their side of the story. Don’t question, judge, ridicule or reject. Just listen.
  2. Give time and space.
    Wounds of the body heal. Maybe in a day, a week, a month or a year but given enough time, they heal. Wounds of the mind, on the other hand, can take a lifetime to heal. And sometimes, they don’t. So remember, it’s not up to you to decide how a survivor will process their trauma.


  1. Disregard narrative.
    Don’t disregard a voice that is trying to speak up only because it is speaking up against a man you admire. There are sides to a person that you may not be aware of. Sides that they choose to hide for a reason.
  2. Blame the victim.
    That noisy kid playing in the garden before your society. That quiet boy in your class. That girl in your office with the brightest smile. That old lady in the bus. The person writing this. You. Sexual abuse can happen to anyone. And it’s never the victim’s fault. Period.
  3. Ask why someone didn’t report earlier.
    As I said already, you don’t get to decide how someone will process their trauma. How, when and who they choose to tell – or even whether they choose to report – is entirely their choice. Additionally, it’s important to remember that many people don’t want to report through formal channels because of all the victim-blaming and re-traumatising behaviour that they have to endure when they come forward.
  4. Spew hate.
    Your dismissal and hate comes at a cost that may be invisible to you but may greatly impact a survivor. Your thoughtless comments on a piece or account on social media may mean little to you but may easily cause someone to lose faith in their own memory of what happened to them or leave them feeling isolated.

So think twice before saying something, act with empathy.

Ruta Sawant is a 17-year-old bibliophile and poet, studying humanities at V. G. Vaze College of Arts, Science and Commerce, Mumbai. Find her on Instagram @_poetically_correct