I live in an area where the melting pot is not only simmering; it is about to boil over. Because of the diversity surrounding me, I often wonder how the world around me still shakes with so little empathy. I teach my daughter that perseverance, focus, passion, compassion and patience are essential in life. But, one of the most important words I will ever teach her is “empathy”. She’s only four, so I don’t think she quite grasps the meaning yet, let alone the spelling. Someday, I hope she will.
Have we paved such strict paths that we cannot stand back, reflect and view a person’s different trials and tribulations and accept them with empathy, even though we don’t truly understand them? One of my favorite mottos in life is “appreciate the differences in others, as well as the similarities.”
There is always some similarity in those differences, if you look close enough. If you are self-aware enough. Through life experience, when someone tells me of an obstacle they are facing, I do not preach that their life is worse or better. I do not believe in forcing my answers to overcome them, either. There is no worse or better and everyone prevails via different means. There is only empathy. Through that empathy, sympathy is born. And through that sympathy, acceptance without judgment is born. Just because they are feeling something I don’t understand, does not make it wrong.
We all make different life decisions, which differentiate our paths in life. We could be born into a similar socioeconomic and cultural surrounding, but our decisions are what make us different. And, where it may have taken us longer to come to a similar realization about life, neither is better or worse. We are all equal. We have just paved different paths that come with more or less weight in baggage. The ones with more baggage are often stronger, hence the cliché. It is the outcome that is most important.
It is the people that I meet who have paved the most difficult paths in life and learned the lessons in the hardest ways that often carry the most empathy for those around them. It is the people I have met, who have been dealt the most difficult cards upon birth that also often carry the most empathy for those around them.
I’m sometimes weary of people who have never faced a hardship or had their heart broken. They tend to seek and gravitate toward similarities, rather than differences. They tend to have less of an ability to empathize.
So, as a lesson to myself, when my daughter someday tells me how she feels and I do not understand her situation completely, I will let her know that I can empathize. I will give her my own examples without overshadowing or belittling what she is going through.
Yes, you are all probably saying, “Fat chance. Teenagers have a mind of their own.” But the best I can do now is try to explain what it means, be self-aware and hope for the best.