On Empathy


It always makes me squirm when people talk about how loving and nurturing women are. Not because of the gender stereotypes, but because it makes me feel out of place. I should be those things and I want to be those things, but they don't come naturally.

I watch how others are so engaged in the lives of loved ones and I start to feel bad about myself. My natural tendency is not to think "I love that person like crazy. I want to be involved in their life" but rather "That person knows I love them like crazy, I can be distant." Even watching people with their pets makes me feel callous. I can tell you with absolute certainty that my friend Sierra loves her HEDGEHOG more than I love my dog. And dogs are like, 1000x better than hedgehogs. I have never let Mojo lick my face. I get that it's a sign of affection. But it's nasty.

I'm a good listener and I try to be a good friend, but I one thing I've always struggled with is empathy. (Here's a great video that talks about the distinction between sympathy and empathy.) A few months ago I remember being home while Kiana (my little sister) was really sick. The flu or something? She couldn't stop throwing up. I walked in on her vomiting in the bathroom and froze. For a moment, I wasn't sure what to do. Should I leave her alone? That's what I would want. But I knew Kiana would want someone there. So I knelt down beside her and rubbed her back. I pulled her hair out of the way. At the time, it bothered me that I had to make a conscious decision to do these things. How did that not come naturally to me? Why did I have to think about it? 

In retrospect, I was too hard on myself. Not only did I identify with Kiana's situation, I thought of how she would want someone to react . . . and I did it. I moved beyond sympathy to empathy.

Brock has been sick this whole week, which is why I've been thinking more about how I show love for others. It's easy to show love for someone when they're sick or in need. That gives you something concrete to do--make soup! put on a pot of tea! etc. I'd like to get better at showing love when people don't need anything at all. (I believe that's the definition of charity.)

I want to call friends just to chat--even though I hate long phone calls. I want to do my visiting teaching--even though I hate small talk. I can be pretty selfish in my approach to relationships, and that needs to change. Hold me accountable,  yeah?


  1. Love the new blog update! It looks so great! And I never really knew the difference between empathy and sympathy. Thanks for getting me thinking.

    Also, I hate it when my dog licks my face, too. And I think it's so weird that a lot of people don't. I mean, we all know where they stick their faces sometimes.

    1. Haha glad I'm not the only one! And yeah, I LOVED that video. Definitely put a new perspective on things for me.


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