The Healing Power of Empathy
Have you ever gone through something awful and just thought, “no good could ever come of this,” and then some time later, maybe even years later, your experience somehow allows you to better empathize with another person? You talk with them, or maybe just give them a shoulder to cry on, and in that moment you feel yourself heal a little too?
I believe that empathy has great power to heal our souls. Christ’s sacrifice is empathy at its core, so when we practice empathy with others I believe the atonement is simultaneously healing us.
I think empathy is the root of goodness. It is when we empathize that charity and service become more than just commandments checked off a list, but lifestyles that become transcendent.
Often the cruelty and injustice we see in the world could be solved by a simple dose of empathy.
We cannot force others to feel empathy. However we can look inside ourselves and assess where in our lives we could use more empathy.
But how do you have empathy for a person you do not relate to?
First of all, I really feel we can relate to everyone on some level. Everyone lives life. Everyone has parents whose genetic code they share whether or not those parents are present in their lives. Everyone experiences the world.
But I also think empathy can grow from a place as simple as, “I’ve gone through hard things. This person has some hard things too.”
It could be night and day what those hard things are compared to one another, but the place you can relate is that they are both hard.
Sometimes we need to grow empathy from a place of, “I have made mistakes. This person is making mistakes too. I know it is hard to do the right thing sometimes.”
Note: when we do this we do not excuse anyone’s behavior or belittle our own experiences and pain, but we do humanize each other and open the doors up to personal healing.
When I was in middle school, I had a group of friends I liked to hang out with. One Saturday afternoon, I had to pass on an opportunity to hang out with them because I had chores to finish. An hour or so after turning down the invitation, my best friend called me up. She said she had been spending time with this group and was now walking home. She said that after finding out I would not be joining them, some of the guys started to make fun of me. Specifically of my religion. This group of friends always tried to be respectful in their language and behavior around me, but when I wasn’t around they started joking with each other about how annoying it was for them to do so. My friend said she has asked them to stop, and when they didn’t she left.
I felt betrayed. These people who were supposedly my friends, who I thought understood my values, had made fun of something important to me when I wasn’t around. They judged me because of my faith and my beliefs.
While this experience was hard at the time, I found a lot of solace in my best friend whose empathy gave her courage to stand up for the defenseless and then walk away and not associate with the gossip.
This friend has always been one of the best examples of empathy to me. She understands Christ’s love in a way few people do. As a Catholic, she too understood what it was like to have a religion that wasn’t always respected and understood, and she was there for me when my own religion was attacked.
Mine and her religions are far from the only ones persecuted and misunderstood. And honestly a part of me is grateful for the experiences I have had being judged for my beliefs, because I have a place for empathy to grow. Empathy for believers driven out of their homes, empathy for people cast out and forbidden for their religious associations, empathy for the “huddled masses” our Statue of Liberty is meant to be a symbol of hope for.
I believe as we allow empathy into our hearts we plant the seeds for incredible change we can make in our own homes and lives. Including the lives of those we interact with.