100. Empathy summary

100 empathy pixabay eye-2053408__340

I hope you all had a splendid Easter!

We spent Lent looking at one imperative aspect of seeing, which is empathy. I don’t know about you, but I learnt a lot. In turning the tables and looking at an issue or characteristic from the other “side” with compassion as my watchword, I found that it is possible to understand how we all rationalise our own thought patterns and behaviours as morally correct, or at least, justifiable.

Sometimes the different way of thinking from our own has just come about as someone chose a path that branched off from ours somewhere along the line. Or they had an experience that changed their direction, or influenced their view of what is right or wrong. Or they found that they were motivated by something that I was not, or vice versa. Whatever we choose, whatever ethical lines we define ourselves by, we need to firmly believe either that we are the ones who are right, or that we are the ones playing the game well, or, if we are doing something we know is morally questionable, that we are powerless. In other words, we persuade ourselves that we are good, clever, or victims of the rules/culture.

Jesus’ words “They know not what they do,” are crucial. Most of the people who are seeking to feel at peace about feeling or doing something that is not wholesome, use various arguments to sustain their way of life. Most prevalent is, “if I weren’t doing this, someone else would be (and not as well or as kindly as I do)”. And, almost as often, “everyone is doing it, therefore it’s okay”. In some very real ways, we really don’t know that what we are doing has any hurtful repercussions.

One of the hardest things in writing these pieces was beginning with my own voice and not coming back to it after the section of empathy. To let the view that was different from my own have the last word was difficult, but I felt, necessary. To sandwich the other between my own opinion would have stolen its power. I needed to let that person’s voice stand unchallenged. This is maybe what real listening looks like, or holding space. We may not agree, but we can defend the right to be heard.

And then we ended with my looking at a few of my own traits with empathy. This was really helpful, and I’m glad I did it. I feel now that it will be easier to look candidly at my own character in prayer, and to balance that honesty with self-compassion.

So empathy is a hugely important way of seeing. If we cannot empathise with the other outside of ourselves, we will never really be able to contemplate in any worthwhile way.

“Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other’s eyes for an instant?”

~ Henry David Thoreau


p.s. for a great illustration of empathy, which, like mine is fictional, but nevertheless powerful, do read Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. The section on Jane’s childhood is phenomenally empathetic, both towards her childhood self, and those who do her wrong.

text © Keren Dibbens-Wyatt 2017 photo from Pixabay (back to mine from tomorrow I hope!)


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