18 August 2014

Empathy: Pass It On!

At the behest of some, and by necessity of self, I return to blogging. I think I did all things Social Media for so long, I was tired of hearing my own voice on the interweb. Now that I'm moving on professionally, I feel free once again to move on blog-wise. Aren't you lucky?

The world is a really dark and cruel place. I glance at the headlines, and cannot believe the hatred, thoughtlessness or general apathy mankind has for its own species. For humans to be so capable of beautiful, uplifting things, yet so prone to war, destruction and self-annihilation is downright perplexing to me.

In light of some current events, I would like to make a bold suggestion: let us, as a species, make an effort to have more empathy for one another. Empathy is defined as "the intellectual identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another." In other words, it is the ability to put one's self in another's position; think about what someone else is feeling before judging, commenting or perhaps even acting.

In the recent wake of Robin William's death, I read and heard many uplifting things. But I also read and heard many pernicious things. Especially cruel were sentiments such as, "If you're depressed like him, kill yourself already." and the ever popular sentiment, "People like him [who commit suicide] are such cowards."

I could easily say something like, "Well...I have depression too. That is a really mean thing to say." stomp my foot and move on. But that solution does not sit well with me. I think the bigger issue at hand is the theme of empathy. In our tech-savvy, communication-at-a-distance world, I fear we are losing our humanity, byte by byte. It has become to easy to be the anonymous voice in a growing crowd of disharmony.

During a recent therapy session with my daughter, the therapist looked at me and kindly advised, "Put yourself in her shoes. If you were your daughter in this situation, how would you feel?" I was so grateful for that moment of clarity. As a parent, I am quick to express my expectations, and encourage progress as best as I can. You know how it goes- parents are essentially cheerleaders, coaxing and cheering the little and big victories of our children. Yet somewhere along the way, I had forgotten to put myself in my daughter's shoes and take a look at the world from her point of view, including her past experiences.

And thus, empathy has been on my mind. I need to have more of it towards other people. And I need more empathy from others. But then again, I think we all do. In that way, I think empathy is a lot like mercy: you can never have or give too much.

Elder Neil A. Maxwell of the LDS church said, "As things unfold, sometimes in full view, let us be merciful with each other. We certainly do not criticize hospital patients amid intensive care for looking pale and preoccupied. Why then those recovering from surgery on their souls? Empathy may not be appreciated or reciprocated, but empathy is never wasted." (You can read his April 1999 talk "Lest Ye Be Wearied and Faint In Your Minds" here.) I love this comparison of the physical and emotional/spiritual illness! We can easily spot someone in a cast or with bruises or stitches, but the injuries of the soul most often go unseen.

For this reason, it is essential that we, as a species, step up our efforts to be kind. This kindness towards others, this mercy, costs nothing yet can be worth everything. I invite you to look for opportunities in your lives to open your hearts, your eyes to those around you and have a little empathy. The world will be infinitely better because of your efforts.

Finally....this last bit is very tongue-in-cheek, situation begging empathy, comes from a TV show. it is completely irreverent, yet pretty pointed. Click here for a little lesson on empathy, Supernatural style (no-it is not frightening or offensive).

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