What Empathy Looks Like
I have a friend who is fond of using the phrase, “We are all in the midst of a thing,” as her shorthand view of our world right now. She’s one of the most positive people I know and I love her for a whole bunch of reasons. This, though, isn’t one of them since the phrase makes me crazy. She says she uses it because everyone experiences this pandemic in unique ways.
Take me and my mother, for example. I am not completely alone in all this – I have my husband; I have friends via Zoom; I have daily walks and other ways to try to cope. There have been bad days, to be sure. There have also been gifts.
For my mother, the experience has been like being jailed (her word) in an assisted living community in Wisconsin for over two months now. No visitors, no group activities, no communal dining. Her walks around the neighborhood have shrunk to walks around the inside perimeter of her building, which is not that big. Thankfully, there have been no cases in her facility and her caregivers are kind. Mom can be stubborn (yup, I got it from somewhere!) and refuses to use technology that would allow us to see each other, so we talk on the phone.
Her “thing” and my “thing” are different. It’s been a lesson in empathy for me. How can I put myself in her shoes? We could all use a little practice on that one. Today, I’ll share one way to get at it, no matter your age.
Steve Hartman is a wonderful purveyor of hope. Some of you might remember him from his days in the Twin Cities. Now, he is a correspondent for CBS News doing an occasional piece called On the Road. Last month, he did a few segments he called Kindness 101 that are geared toward kids. I think they’re good for all of us.
Today, I’m sharing with you the bit he did on empathy. One explanation of the difference between sympathy and empathy is this:
Sympathy is being sorry that someone’s feet hurt.
Empathy is walking a mile in someone else’s shoes.
This distinction is helpful because it gets at the level of investment in the life of another. Hartman offers some creative examples of what empathy looks like. Find a half hour to follow this link and watch. Then consider someone else’s reaction to this “thing” we’re all in the midst of and look at it in a new way.