The first time I remember having a conversation about empathy was in my 7th grade English class. We talked about To Kill A Mockingbird. I remember being taught about compassion towards others early in my life, but it wasn’t until Atticus Finch said his famous words that I questioned my own ability to empathize.
“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view … Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it” said Atticus Finch.
Had I actually tried to climb into someone else’s skin and walk around in it? Had I done enough to see the world through someone else’s eyes? We would all like to say yes to that question, but the truth is, no one can master empathy. We can only try our hardest and continue to learn how to be empathic. Saying we are always empathic would be like saying we never feel angry or hurt – that would be a lie. We should always be practicing empathy and instilling that into others.
I decided to write about empathy following former First Lady Michelle Obama’s DNC speech last Monday evening. She said empathy is something we practice without a second thought. It is “the ability to walk in someone else’s shoes; the recognition that someone else’s experience has value, too.”
Our country is lacking empathy now more than ever. Americans are so divided that we can’t even have a conversation without arguing. Why is it so difficult to see yourself in someone else’s shoes? To see yourself in their situation and ask, “How would I feel? How would I respond? What would I do?”
Don’t confuse sympathy with empathy. Anyone can say they care about how you feel. Anyone can give you a hug and say it is going to be okay. The true test of character is if you can sit down and consider, “What if I had to pray for my black son every time he left the house for fear he would be shot by police officers because of the color of his skin?”
What I’m trying to say is that empathy isn’t a political issue. If you are scared to have empathy because you think you will switch political parties, then you really don’t understand what empathy is. What the world is lacking is empathy, now more than ever. If the news about Jacob Blake doesn’t make you sick to your stomach, you don’t have empathy.
My advice? Don’t ever stop learning about empathy. Ask questions. Understand all experiences have value. Walk in someone else’s shoes.