Originally Posted November 21 2016
I find a big mistake we make in empathy is that we treat other people as if they were exactly like ourselves.
We are all human this is true. But how boring would this world be if we were all the same human?
To say to one person “Stop crying! This matter would be trivial to me!” will not matter, for what is easy or hard for you is not necessarily easy or hard for the other person. To assume the things that you understand easily are understood just as easily to everyone else is ridiculous, for not everyone is like you.
You are unique. Your desires, fears, experiences, talents, weaknesses… they all make you you, and all give you a perspective of this world that belongs to you alone. You cannot judge the state of your environment based on your feelings alone. What is a time of peace and prosperity for one, may be a time of torture and anguish to another. What is a smooth running plan where everything goes your way, may be a hellish nightmare for the one that is dealing with all your mistakes. What could be the most fun and comfortable place for yourself, may be an awkward and boring obligation to another.
You cannot judge the state of your surroundings based on your own feelings alone! That is not near enough! You must look beyond yourself, and pay attention to those around you.
Notice discomfort. Notice awkwardness. Notice fear. Notice joy. Notice excitement. Notice all the things you cannot see as you stare in the mirror day and night.
So how does empathy work then? Are those who complain “YOU CAN NEVER UNDERSTAND ME!” correct then? Are they really to be pitied to such an extreme?
No. When I say we are not the same, it is only in regards to topical things. To experiences, to interests, to fears, to goals. In these areas we may differ greatly, but underneath we are all human. We all know what pain, joy, sorrow, and excitement feel like.
I may not be able to know how it feels to be abused by a lover, but I do know how it feels to be betrayed by someone close. I may not know the fascination with watching sports, memorizing stats, or spending most your life savings to attend games and get memorabilia…. but I do know what it’s like to have hobbies you enjoy and push you to be competitive and creative. I may not know what it’s like to be discriminated for specific causes, but I know what it’s like to be bullied, turned down jobs, attacked, and turned into an outcast due to things that you have no control over, nor that even matter.
I may not know what your specific relationship was like, but I know what love feels like. I may not know what you’re running from, but I know what it is to fear. I may not know what they did to you, but I know anger. I may not understand why this means so much to you, but I know what it is to value something.
These moments are empathy. The moments when you leave yourself. Your world. Your perspective. The moments you realize we all experience similar feelings towards different things. It is when you realize it is not the object or action that matters as much as the emotion and burden behind it. It is at these moments that you change from oblivious to empathetic.
We are all unique although we are all the same. But in the end it is the differences between us that make us so impactful for each other. Let them draw us closer together, not push us farther apart