Empathy - Monday Musing, March 22, 2021
Empathy. The term empathy is used to describe a wide range of experiences. Generally, it is the ability to sense other people’s emotions, coupled with the ability to imagine what someone else might be thinking or feeling. Sympathy, on the other hand, is feeling sorry for someone, while empathy is understanding their pain. These words are related, but they are not synonymous.
In his opinion editorial, “The art of driving ourselves crazy” (CCT, 3/19/21), Lawrence Brown writes that historical empathy is “understanding historic figures with one foot in the present and the other foot in the time they were from.” I had never thought about empathy that way, but an example he cited had me nodding my head in full understanding. Mark and I have been watching the CNN mini-series, “Lincoln: Divided We Stand.” While I was somewhat knowledgeable of Abraham Lincoln’s presidency and The Civil War, the politics of the day, one could argue, paint Lincoln in a not so flattering light. Brown asks, “So was Lincoln a good guy or not? And should we judge him by his epoch’s standards – or by ours?”
Standing in another person’s shoes, understanding their feelings and perspectives, can only be done with engagement. I am thankful that our Justice Committee hosted the “Cape Cod Voices of Color: Are We Listening” virtual forum yesterday. As a newly-minted ‘washashore,’ I have no frame of reference of what it is like for a person of color to live on Cape Cod. Damon Green, Michael Cestaro, Muska Yousuf, and Mozilla Andrulot spoke about what it was like as Black, Indigenous, People of Color living on Cape Cod. They shared their stories and offered suggestions on how we, as concerned neighbors, can become allies.
The Ephesian church seemed to start out well. In fact, they were known as “Christ’s church.” Nevertheless, divisions appeared because they had forgotten the purpose behind their mission. Worst of all, they had forgotten to carry out all their actions in love. The Apostle Paul writes in Ephesians, “be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (4:32-5:2, NRSV).
Although we live in a different cultural and historical world than that of the Ephesians, Paul’s words about kindness and forgiveness resonate with us today. After all, Jesus has shown both to us, so why shouldn't we, in turn, do the same? “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” says Jesus (John 15:12, NRSV). The Dalai Lama is quoted as saying, “It is necessary to combine knowledge born from study with sincere practice in our daily lives. These two must go together.” The task of love is made more authentic by understanding, so it helps to have empathy. May our love be genuine with all we meet.