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Empathy is a gift and is also learned

Photo by Vicki Harris

Photo by Vicki Harris

Did the storm skip over you?

As a child, I can remember hearing the grown-ups say, "If you ain't gone through nothing yet, just keep on living." It wasn't grammatically correct, but it was certainly a fact-a fact of life that reminds us that we all encounter storms in our lives.

Sometimes, we forget that unfortunate circumstances can occur unexpectedly and happen to the best of us. People's children get into trouble or tough situations, people have financial hardship, and people make mistakes. When we consider that the plight of others could have just as well been our own, we are slow to pass judgment.

Though the torrential rains, turbulent winds, and dark skies appear in different forms, vary in degree of severity, and occur at different times, we have all had a storm to show up at one point or another. Whether your storm has been a literal or a metaphorical one, you know that picking up the pieces can be a long and emotionally and mentally taxing process.

What's interesting is that rarely do we weather our storms alone, but how soon do we forget what it was like while we were going through it. How often do we think to put ourselves in the shoes of another and consider what they might be experiencing when all is well in our own lives? Rather than talking about the troubles of our friends, neighbors, co-workers, fellow church members, and speculating about what they did wrong, or ranting about how they should have done this or that, or what we would have done if it were us, we should try thinking back to the last time it WAS us. Become empathetic.

Empathy, in and of itself, is not something we give to others, but it is a way of feeling and thinking that leads to a way being that ultimately demonstrates our concern and compassion for others. It is what allows us to extend ourselves to help others when they are facing difficult circumstances. When we are empathetic, we consider how we might feel if we were going through a similar ordeal as someone else. Then, we become activated around what we feel in order to support them. Lend a hand, lend an ear, or offer those words of encouragement or advice that comforted you during your storm. Share resources and contacts that you found helpful. Pray for them if prayer helped you through your storm.

People go through divorce, family secrets erupt and make the news, and people have breaking points. Circumstances like these can bring about feelings of embarrassment, despair, and fear. It may not have been your storm, but imagine if it was.

Sometimes the storm skips over us, for whatever reason, but this is no time for gloating or gossiping. This is a time to demonstrate our gratitude through our empathy for others. We are at our best as people when we operate from this place.

I don't know if empathy is a gift or if it has to be learned. Perhaps, it is a bit of both for different people, but without it, humanity suffers.

Be encouraged.

Contact columnist LaTonya Dunn at