Empathy As A Tool
Our communities and the world are in turbulent times, causing stress at greater levels wherever you look.
While we don’t always see eye to eye on situations, we can be empathetic.
But it can be challenging when we feel threatened or defensive, allowing our egos, opinions, and judgments to impede our ability to express empathy.
“Empathy is patiently and sincerely seeing the world through the other person’s eyes. It is not learned in school; it is cultivated over a lifetime.” ~Albert Einstein
Empathy In Action
Several years ago, I read a news article about a 17-year-old who was the driver of a horrific car accident.
The article stated the young man had been cruising late one night with two of his friends, driving down a residential road at a speed of 100 miles an hour when he lost control of the car, crashed into a pole killing his two passengers.
The news covered the story for weeks as the teenage driver appeared in court and was sentenced to jail on two counts of vehicular homicide.
As I followed the story, each passing article caused my heart to become heavier. I watched as people in the community blamed the parents for not keeping tabs on their kid. I read posts online from people who thought this young man should get life in prison for what he had done.
Shortly after this young man’s sentencing, I became compelled to do something, and even though I wasn’t acquainted with this family, I could relate to them. I mean I have kids, and by putting myself in that mom’s place, I could only imagine the sleepless nights and tremendous stress this put on her and everyone involved.
I found out the name and address of the parents of this high school boy, and I began to send cards to her. Cards telling her she wasn’t alone and not everyone in the community was against her. I told her, while I couldn’t fully understand what she may be going through, I could understand a mom’s heart. I never signed my name, and I continued doing this every six to eight weeks until one day I read the young man had completed his sentence and was due to be released in the coming weeks.
And so, I sent one final note.
I told her how happy I was that her son would soon be home. I told her this would be my last note, but my prayers and thoughts for her family would continue as I was sure there would be many new adjustments. This time, though, I signed my name, telling her I wasn’t a stalker and if she ever wanted to meet, I would be available.
“Empathy is putting your feet in someone else’s shoes because you never know when you may be walking a similar path.” ~KatieMae
How Empathy Can Help
In November of 2008, my husband and I awoke to a knock on our bedroom door at two in the morning. Our 18-year-old son came in and started the conversation with “Everyone is okay, but I need to tell you my two friends and I were in a car accident.”
At that moment I had no clue as to how similar the story would sound to me.
As we got out of bed to calm our son down, he explained what had happened.
He and his friends had been out cruising at an excessive speed that night and hit a patch of ice skidding across the road. The car jumped the curb plummeting it into an empty field. The boys were shaken and bruised, the car was totaled, but the only thought going through my mind was how closely this might have turned out like the accident four years prior.
What Empathy Is and Isn’t
Being empathetic is not only good for others but is a benefit for the empathizer.
Empathy can cause growth on both sides by giving us a better understanding of people and their perceptions. It can open up ideas and thoughts we may not have considered which in turn can make us better people.
Empathy is not sympathy, pity, agreement or even endorsement.
Studies have shown empathy is an essential ingredient in building successful relationships free from bullying, judgment, prejudice, inequality and racism.
Empathy is reciprocal.
In an uncanny coincidence, I did meet the mom of the driver mentioned earlier in this post.
One day at work, my CEO stopped by my office and asked to talk. With a grave look on his face, he took a seat next to my desk and told me a story about how his daughter had been receiving cards in the mail for the past few years from an anonymous person. He said in her final note; this person had signed her name.
As I sat listening to him speak, I began to get emotional. He went on to say, how difficult the situation was for his daughter and on some of her darkest days when she things became completely overwhelming, she would find a card in the mail offering encouragement and strength to make it through another day. He thanked me for stepping out and showing empathy for his daughter in a very hard season of her life and later that week when she came to visit her dad, I was able to meet her face to face.
Months later the three of us would once again sit down to talk, as they helped me through the emotional stress of my son’s experience.
Showing Empathy Is Vital
Today, it seems empathy is at an all time low, but we all have the power to make a change. By taking a moment to walk in someone else’s shoes, we may be surprised just how tightly they fit.