I'm only now starting to learn the true meaning of these three words and the impact that they may have on my life. though seemingly the same, these words carry very great and different meanings. my mentor explained it to me in the form of a simple story.
a man is drowning in the river. apathy comes by, notices him and decides that it is not worth his time trying to save him. so he continues on his way.
next sympathy comes by. he is so overcome by emotion and really wants to save the man drowning in the river that he rushes in to the water without a second thought. as soon as he reaches the man he finds that he too gets caught in the riptide and cannot save either of them. so now he too is drowning.
then empathy comes along and sees both men drowning in the river. he also desperately wants to help them both, but does not rush in immediately. he is aware that he may also get caught out there. so first he calls someone for help and searches around for a life jacket and some rope to pull them in with. he puts on the life jacket and throws out the life raft for them to grab hold of until someones comes to help him pull them in. in no time at all help arrives and empathy is able to safely rescue them without further endangering himself or anybody else.