The Birth of Empathy


This has been on my mind for quite some time now. It’s something most people are aware of intuitively but doesn’t surface in waking interaction. It’s something that can help you connect quickly to other humans.

What I’m thinking of, is the idea that each individual has one or two major problems in their life that are weighing on them. Whether it’s uncertainty over the next step in their life, relationship troubles, illness, or the death of a relative, there is probably some sort of drama occurring that you are unaware of.

When we face our own struggles, it’s easy to look at the rest of the world as if those problems aren’t happening to other people. When we adopt this perspective, we become jaded and resentful. We develop a Cain-like tendency to curse our creator for being inflicted with an undue amount of suffering, while others seem to go about life prancing through like happy little bunnies, unafflicted by the pain that we’re dealing with. This element within the psyche of each individual forces us to project our misery and suffering unto others, which is perhaps why we get angry and start fights with random strangers or even the people close to us. We want a way to offload our pain and wish for others to feel the way we feel.

However, this is an improper perspective to have. What you should keep in mind, is that you are but one of millions who is experiencing pain. Looking at strangers and being resentful that they aren’t suffering isn’t just bad for your psychological well-being, it’s simply incorrect. All you have to do is have a conversation with someone long enough and ask the right questions, and you will soon find out that they, just like you, are experiencing some real difficulties.

Keeping this in mind, you will see the world for what it is. The understanding of suffering is the birth of empathy, and empathy helps you connect and develop compassion for the untold millions around you. That feeling of empathy will dissolve your anger, hostility, and resentfulness. That feeling of empathy will push you to be kinder to those strangers you interact with in everyday life.

Maybe it surfaces at smiling and being sweeter to the Starbucks barista or excusing that man who bumped into you on the street. That option is much better than being short with your barista or cursing out that friggin’ jagoff who bumped into you. (Hey, I’m walkin’ here!)

Next time you’re in public, tell yourself that each person could be going through hell. Then tell yourself you want to be somebody who makes that hell a little bit more tolerable. Then, act on it. That is the proper way to be.

Love, you might say, is the burning point of life, and since all life is sorrowful, so is love. And the stronger the love, the more that pain, but love bears all things. Love itself is a pain, you might say, but is the pain of being truly alive. – Joseph Campbell


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