I was having a conversation last night with some friends about what is on each of our hearts in terms of needs we see in the world. As I thought about what seems to be of core importance to me, I realized that the essential thing I'm chasing after is empathy. I want to help create a more empathetic world. After all, a more empathetic world is one in which injustices are far fewer as we see each other as human beings deserving of love and respect.
I know ... sound the "delusions of grandeur alarm".
But here's the thing. Empathy is such an essential thing to navigating our world, to making life work, to learning new skills, to having relationships. And while I think in many ways our world has become more connected and more empathetic, I think we still have a long way to go. After all, if we really excelled at empathy, there wouldn't be more than 45 million people currently enslaved around the world right now (find out more about this by checking out the International Justice Mission site).
Or let's take a different issue as an example. If we excelled at empathy we'd be a whole lot less quick to judge others and become offended at all kinds of things. The hot-button issue getting people offended lately has the been the controversy in the NFL over players kneeling during the national anthem. But what would empathy do for this situation?
Could the impulse to judge be set aside long enough to allow us to better hear the concerns at hand? In particular, I think the burden of empathy rests mostly on the side of those of us finding ourselves offended by this gesture. After all, being offended by anything is a choice we make. Can we pause long enough to ask what could lead people to do this? Why are they trying so hard to get our attention? What would happen if we could simultaneously say, "I may or may not agree with how you chose to get my attention, but I see that you are hurting. What can I do to help?" After all, what's more important? A national anthem and its symbolic value or real human lives being lost due to systemic racism?
As I thought about what I want to do to encourage a more empathetic world, I realized that there are two sides to this for me. First of all, I'm drawn to storytelling because it is simultaneously a vehicle fueled by empathy and a generator of new empathy. Like an empathy particle accelerator smashing bits of humanity together in order to create as yet undiscovered new particles of empathy, stories drop us into someone else's mind and skin for a while and train us to see things from someone else's perspective for a bit. The results--if we truly allow ourselves to be affected by the stories we experience--can be life-changing.
The second aspect of what I feel compelled to do is engage people's minds. Does that seem odd? I mean, empathy is about the heart, right?
Well, not entirely.
You see, empathy is as much about understanding as it is about feeling. In this way, it is just as important that we continue to learn about our world, learn about the realities other people are experiences and the details of the context from which those experiences come from. In this way, we are better equipped to see that our own experiences are limited and subjective. We can better question our own assumptions as we seek to error on the side of love and not fear as we navigate a very uncertain world.
Heart and Mind. Together. That's how I see empathy.
This definitely is a big goal. And it can seem abstract at first. But with this as a guiding principle in mind, it can bring clarity to specific moments. Whether I'm having a difficult moment of parenting and need to just first connect with my daughter before addressing any issues or I'm conversing with someone who just doesn't see why I'm passionately invested in social justice issues, I want to build empathy bridges. I want to build connection.
But I'm also human. So I often suck at the very things I care the most about. But a guy can try, right?
Speaking of trying ... I'm running the SOBO 5K to End Human Trafficking on Sunday. More about that in the video below.