Empathy is a gift we all want to receive in times of need. It is a soothing balm when applied to emotional pain. Identification with emotions that others are experiencing brings with it understanding and a desire to support the one we identify with. Most of us can empathize because of a similar situation in our lives and we recall those feelings of hurt, hopelessness, disillusionment, pain, desperation, disbelief and depression. This deep inner knowledge enables us to express our feelings with sincerity.
The old adage about not understanding someone else’s problems until you have walked a mile in his or her shoes is a profound truth. I agree with King Solomon that there is nothing new under the sun. Similar problems confront us all. They may vary depending on culture, race, religion and ethnicity, but life always has its challenges. Empathy is one of the ways we identify with fellow travellers on this journey. If we didn’t identify at this deep level, we would be cold and hard-hearted, unable to be moved by other people’s misfortune.
A well-known woman witnessed men and women, even young children, dying in the streets, rejected by local hospitals. She felt the pain they suffered and decided to dedicate the rest of her life serving the poorest of the poor. With a few helpers, she founded a home for the dying, so that she could care for the poor and lonely destitute people, regardless of whether they were dying of AIDS or leprosy.
For over 50 years, she worked selflessly helping the poor, and earned the name "Saint of the Gutters." Later, when people asked what made her happy, she said her greatest joy was to care for the poor in the last stretch of their earthly journey, so they were able to die in peace and with dignity.
She told her followers: "Keep the joy of loving the poor and share this joy with all you meet. Remember works of love are works of peace. God bless you.” - Mother Theresa.
Research has shown that there are people who do not have the innate ability to see or identify with others in their dilemmas. How unfortunate for them that they are void of the intimacy of empathy.
“Empathy is probably hardwired, because it serves two important survival functions: bonding between people, and predicting others' needs and actions; but, it may be tempered by experience and learning.” -Dr. Tania Singer
Empathy is a contribution, which comes at a high price to those who possess it. Given unconditionally, it has no monetary value, except kindness paid forward.
MAY 2010 SENIOR LIVING MAGAZINE VANCOUVER & LOWER MAINLAND
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