Empathy

Estimated reading time: 4 minute(s)

Earlier this week I told the story here of how one thought led to another, leading me to the interesting conclusion that we are so self-focused that even when we are actually thinking of others we are thinking of self. Incredible, and brilliantly designed by our Creator, I might add.

Another thought that has been bouncing about the various regions of my brain (or wherever it is all of these thoughts and notions and fancies do their bouncing) is the concept of empathy.

Definition of Empathy

Existing nicely in tandem with the familiar refrain of Jesus’ words, “Treat others the way you want to be treated” is this concept of ‘Empathy’. To empathize really means that we are considering others as much as ourselves. Going beyond considering, it’s identifying with the current emotional or circumstantial state of this other person.

But how do we do that? How do we get so outside of ourselves? What’s in it for me?

Don’t be concerned only about your own interests, but also be concerned about the interests of others.

Paul’s words in Philippians are a reminder that the world does not revolve around me. I am not the center of the universe—though, as I mused the other day, there is something deep inside us that imagines that to be true; as dependable as an immutable Law of the Universe. Fascinating.

And yet, we see (especially when observing others, when the situation does not directly affect me) that when you can figuratively place yourselves in the position of—in the “shoes” of—another, that is when real communication can happen, and much more importantly, real, actual love.

Our family read a book called Love Does by Bob Goff. Very entertaining, and motivating. Goff reminds the reader that love is not love unless it’s doing. There must be an action.

Empathy is a sort of bridge for us to cross over to do that loving. When there exists some common connection on any one thing (or more) then it becomes possible to “treat others the way you would want to be treated”.

Nearly every night in the Campbell household, Dad reads. I think it began with the oldest two boys several years ago, but then it included reading with The Youngers, and sometimes as a whole family. I enjoy reading to and with the kids, and it would seem they enjoy it, too. Last night The Youngers and I finished up Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo. What a great story of empathy. Opal moves to a new town and feels disconnected from everyone because of her greatest hurt in life, but as she gets to know people, she finds out that everyone hurts. She certainly learns empathy—and so, she learns friendship. And love.

I think another piece of empathy is not showing favoritism. All are created equal are famous words from our Constitution, but we all know that much of the time, all are not treated equally. But as we are to imitate Jesus, as dearly loved children—and in order to better empathize with everyone we know and meet—we can not show favoritism.

For wherever there is jealousy and selfish ambition, there you will find disorder and evil of every kind.

But the wisdom from above is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and good deeds. It shows no favoritism and is always sincere. And those who are peacemakers will plant seeds of peace and reap a harvest of righteousness. James 3:16-18

If all are equal, then we can treat all equally. Then all are equal with us, and we are equal with all. This goes beyond innate value to experiential reality, too. It’s a safe bet that whatever trials you have been through in life, the person next to you has had an experience that is at least similar (emotionally, if not circumstantially).

It’s still hard. We fight to protect ourselves. It’s hard to think outside of ourselves.

But like James said above, the world would be a better place if we would plant seeds of peace.

I contend that the more we can see others as equals, and understand whatever circumstances we encounter from the other person’s perspective—empathize—the more we will know and enjoy the peace (inside, and outside of ourselves) that God has in abundance, and wants us to be part of.

Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:7

Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace. And always be thankful. Colossians 3:13-15

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