Empathy

What is empathy? I’ve heard it defined as “putting yourself in other people’s shoes” in order to understand their emotions. I’ve also heard it defined as giving other people space for their emotions WITHOUT necessarily understanding what they’re feeling. This second form of empathy is far more difficult. Imagine that a stranger is living in your house. She acts terrified and traumatized, but you don’t really know why. You don’t know all that she’s been through and therefore can’t put yourself in her shoes to understand. You’re providing her safe shelter and treating her with kindness, but she still doesn’t come out of her shell—she doesn’t “snap out of it” on a timeline that makes sense to you. How would you feel? Frustrated? Irritated? Would you find her ungrateful? Those feelings are natural; they’re also what make empathy so difficult. In writing my two “Trojan Peace” books, I’ve often reflected on empathy—on how challenging the practice can be to engage in, and on how much I admire those who do.

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