“We would rather push suffering away and pretend that the ubiquitous grief of the world has nothing to do with us, but if we do that we will remain confined in an inferior version of ourselves.”
– Karen Armstrong
My natural reaction is to turn away.
I don’t want to feel someone else’s pain. Empathy hurts. Isn’t my own pain enough? Why voluntarily take on someone else’s misery if I can’t do anything about it? Why walk in their shoes?
Step 4 in my One Word 2014: Compassion is Empathy. It’s drawing on your imagination and your past to understand another’s suffering.
Karen Armstrong suggests it’s a skill we can learn and improve with practice. It doesn’t have to be big things; even one “small, concrete practical act of friendship” is important.
Jesus was empathetic. When he looked at people, he felt their pain.
“When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”
He walked into their aches instead of walking away. He stretched toward the lepers instead of holding them back. He cried with the grieving instead of slighting their sorrow.
Just like he’s done toward us.
Isn’t it because someone has walked with us in our pain that we must walk with others in theirs?
While we can’t heal supernaturally like Jesus did, we can lay down the shields we’ve erected to protect ourselves from their suffering; we can ask questions; we can hear answers; we can walk alongside.
- Notice instead of ignore
- Tune in instead of tune out
- Head toward instead of go around
It’s still not what I want to do in the flesh.
But in the spirit—only by the Spirit—can I go toward, not away.
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How well do you wear others’ shoes? Please share.
The Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life (Karen Armstrong):
- Learn about compassion
- Look at your own world
- Compassion for yourself
- How little we know
- How should we speak to one another?
- Concern for everybody
- Love your enemies
- “The Precipice”–Book review
- What are you singing?