My friend Lowe Finney wrote a warm, insightful piece on empathy for Slice of Infinity. Here are some excerpts:
In her book, The Empathy Exams, Leslie Jamison describes her time as a “medical actor” as she role-played different patients for the benefit of medical school students. Following the exchanges, Jamison documents how the medical student performed and to what extent the student was able to empathize with the “patient.” She points out that the students were not expected simply to possess an attitude of concern for the patient but that the student was expected to appropriately give life to that concern and, hence, make it evident in the heart of the patient. Within this setting, Jamison describes empathy:
“Empathy isn’t just something that happens to us—it’s also a choice we make: to pay attention, to extend ourselves. It’s made of exertion, that dowdier cousin of impulse.”
And so the point of Zacchaeus’s story comes into focus: empathy. Empathy is about choosing a common vantage point and an intentionally shared perspective.
This is the whole point of empathy. Not just that it’s done, but that the other person sees and experiences another’s kind regard of them, another’s effort to try on the same pair of shoes.
In an age where interaction is based increasingly on technological means and remote interface, there is an ever-present challenge to engage personally and without the boundaries of distance, culture, race, or tribe. Empathy reminds us that we need to be old-fashioned in our relationships. It is the ultimate first step in our understanding of and love for others. It requires effort. It requires more than saying “that’s too bad” or “I feel for you” or “I feel your pain.” It demands extending ourselves.
I think you’ll find the whole article enjoyable.
- How would you further explain (or disagree with) Lowe’s definition of empathy?
- What are some practical ways you demonstrate empathy with others?