The Path Towards Empathy

“Before you start to judge me, step into my shoes and walk the life I am living and if you get as far as I am, just maybe you will see how strong I really am”- Unknown

We have all heard about the need for love, compassion and forgiveness. A word or term we don’t hear much about is empathy. Though empathy may seem interchangeable with compassion, I believe it is a more personal and direct experience, and not a blanket sentiment that covers a number of situations or subjects.

Rather than offer you the Merriam-Webster definition of empathy, let me tell you what I think it isn’t: getting upset at the young clerk at the coffee shop for getting your order wrong; reacting angrily to the person calling you at 8:59 pm trying to sell you something while you are watching a CSI marathon; honking your horn at the person in front of you who doesn’t react to the light changing green as quickly as you think they should.

Walking in someone else’s shoes is difficult because we don’t always know that person’s story, or what is happening in their life at that moment. The coffee shop worker quit high school because she is the only person in her household able to work. Her family has given up on making ends meet and is now just trying to survive. The 8:59 pm caller is trying to keep his family together after being laid-off two years earlier. His kids are already in bed and he misses reading to them and tucking them in at night. The light has turned green but she just found out her husband has cancer. She is scared and what was once a bright future headed into retirement together is now an unlit path into the unknown.

We generate empathy with others by remembering the struggles in our own lives, the stories we have personally dealt with or, as Mohsin Hamid describes, “Empathy is about finding echoes of another person in yourself”. It is easy to get wrapped up in our own little world and the worlds of the people we are closest too, but we don’t live on an island, we share this big blue ball with seven billion other souls who are living seven billion stories and experiencing seven billion good times and bad.

The next time a waiter screws up your order, a store clerk is rude to you, or your co-worker passes you without saying good morning, take a deep breath, look into their eyes and see if you can picture the story they are living. Perhaps it is a story you have already lived through.

 “I think we all have empathy. We may not have enough courage to display it.”- Maya Angelou

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About ends and beginnings blog

I am a frustrated writer and poet waiting to be discovered. A stand-up philosopher performing on a street corner near you. A Christian with questions but I don’t want to hear your answers. A Buddhist with a bumper sticker on my truck to prove it. A collector of quotes. A grower of lettuce. The Patron Saint of earthworms who name their children after me. A cyclist whose big ass strains the seams of his Lycra bibs. I am American by birth, Southern by the grace of God. My goal in life is to leave an imprint on the lives of the people I love not a footprint on the earth. I am a son, a husband, a father composed of 65%-Oxygen, 18%-Carbon, 10%-Hydrogen, 3%-Nitrogen, 3%-Diet Coke and 1%-Oreo.
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16 Responses to The Path Towards Empathy

  1. Kathleen says:

    If you are interested in empathy in a scientific as well as humanistic way, I highly recommend you read “The Age of Empathy” by Frans De Waal.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Rey says:

    Wonderful and enlightening post. Thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Geena says:

    Yes how easy to get lost and engrossed in our own world, how easy to turn a blind eye towards others and lose patience just because they are not behaving the way we expect them to. Maybe if only we understood that the world is not cast in our movie, they are playing a part in their own movies, running parallel to ours

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Patty says:

    To be the ‘devil’s advocate’…If the coffee clerk listened better, or wrote down the order…If the 8;59 pm caller could empathize that the marathon watcher is tired after a long day and finally has time to lay back and watch his favorite program…The person in the car who doesn’t pay attention to the traffic lights, dangerous, thus should he be driving in the first place?
    Action = reaction and I think it should work both ways 😉
    Having written this, I also must add; I truly understand your point and I love the way you’re making it 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Thank you for this post. It’s a gentle reminder that empathy costs nothing, though it gives a lot. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Lovely post , we all need a little reminder sometimes…thank you

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Durinda says:

    For those whose first reaction is anger and frustration, stop, take a deep breath and make another choice. Love. Thank you for this reminder.

    Liked by 1 person

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