Spiritually Speaking – November 2021
“Therefore, encourage one another and build one another up,
just as you are doing.” I Thessalonians 5:11
The Power of Empathy
Empathy is a feeling. It’s different from sympathy, different from tolerance, even compassion.
Empathy is the ability to share someone else’s feelings and the ability to understand another person’s experiences. In short, the ability to walk in someone else’s shoes. That can be very hard.
I remember many years ago walking with my young son at an outdoor shopping mall. We saw a woman reading fortunes for five dollars. Her pitch was that she would tell you who you were and what your life would be like by reading coffee grounds from your cup. I’m a sucker for that kind of thing, so we stopped.
My son sat down; dipped the cup she gave him into her bowl; and turned it upside-down over a saucer…revealing the grounds. He waited.
She looked at the pattern of coffee grounds and looked at him. She said, “Wow! You’re an empath! Do you know what that means?”
He said, “I think I do.”
She answered, “It means you have an ability to understand other people’s lives.” (I was amazed, because he does.)
She told him, “You’re going to help people and heal them in the world with your empathy.”
And he smiled a big smile. I truly remember how proud he was to have been told he had that quality.
Some of us, like my son, are born empaths. Others of us learn it from our parents, our children, or our teachers—or from some other patient, loving soul who enters our lives. The good news is that we can all develop empathy, and our world needs it now more than ever!
I believe that the vast majority of people are good and want to live in a more caring and compassionate world. The path to that world starts with empathy. And—because we’re more diverse than ever and more globally connected than ever, empathy is truly needed now more than ever.
But I know there are many people who believe that that vision is out of reach. They tell me that the “us-versus-them” mentality (the demonizing of people who aren’t the same as us) will continue to take precedence over any feeling of fellowship we might have with each other. I strongly disagree.
I believe that creating a more caring, compassionate, and peaceful world would begin with:
(1) Trying to understand the experiences of the other person,
(2) Trying to appreciate all our differences, and finally
(3) Accepting the fact that people don’t have to be, look, or live
exactly like we do— in order to be worthy.
One of the best ways I’ve found to understand people whose lives are different from mine is to be of service. Through my volunteer work with Alzheimer’s, Special
Olympics, Best Buddies, and my church—I have felt fulfilled and connected. I truly
believe that volunteering has helped me to understand other people in ways I couldn’t have done before.
I’ve discovered that—when someone has had empathy for me and my own life
experiences, it softens me; and it encourages me to give that same gift to another. In that way, they may also be encouraged.
So today—think about the time you have felt someone’s empathy for you—and know that you also have this gift to give to someone else.
please give me the gift of empathy,
of understanding another person’s life experiences.
Help me to listen to those experiences without judgment.
Soften my heart, so that I may feel the heart of another. Amen.
I’ve Been Thinking by Maria Shriver—2018