As a writer, I tend to examine topics that deeply matter to me in exhaustive detail, often considering multiple vantage points. To some people, that course amounts to overthinking and I’ve been accused of this action on numerous occasions throughout my life. But such an allegation overlooks the fact that this need to delve into the complex layers of a given concept, incident, or idea provides an essential security. By placing myself in others’ shoes and trying to look at the world from different perspectives, I feel better equipped to navigate the vast universe that surrounds me. This effort amounts to feeling safer in an atmosphere that’s proven to be increasingly quite dangerous. So in the process of facing my fears and determining how to survive the heightened uncertainty that continues to loom over our country, I also gain an enhanced awareness that I wouldn’t otherwise experience.
For all of the above reasons, I’m grateful for empathy.
This sensibility inspires me to feel compassion while also broadening my consciousness. Its nature, an authentic concern for others, helps me look beyond my own existence and, as a result, recognize cultural connections, shared histories, and diverse experiences, which I could never access through my limited relationship to the world alone.
When I read articles and essays about cruel extremist policies that devastate real lives, I hurt, too, feeling quite helpless. As I listen to interviews with various experts in complex facets of politics, society, and culture discuss recent legislative changes aimed to oppress, silence, and deny human rights, I am outraged on behalf of those most keenly affected. Whenever somebody I know, particularly anyone close to me, shares details of suffering, a terrible struggle of any kind, I am deeply upset by the circumstances as well.
While these strong emotions stir discomfort and may even instigate rage, so often generating reactions that offer no actual resolution, they serve an essential purpose. In my view, their profound function is to inform, to inspire an authentic concern that removes me from self-indulgent worries and fear. Caring provides strength, a positive energy that soars outward as opposed to an unproductive immersion in my own terrors, however frightened I might truly feel.
One of the most significant memories I have that involves this willingness to look beyond my own self for such cognizance occurred when my husband converted to Judaism. I accompanied him to each Hebrew class and we went to services together every Friday night, developing warm connections with the rabbi, cantor, and congregation in the process.
To this day, so many years later, I treasure my husband’s beautiful gesture to become Jewish, a choice he made before we married and one that solidified our trust in ways I never would’ve imagined. That period of our relationship holds a special place of pure joyfulness in my heart, wondrous beyond words. It was a pivotal time not only because my spouse decided to embrace my religion, which, in itself, prompted me to feel immense happiness and eternal gratitude, but also because the experience opened new doors of invaluable recognition that I hadn’t known before.
I’ll always remember sitting in the sanctuary during services and really thinking about the meaning behind so many of the prayers, an effort I never engaged in as I grew up with these same blessings. Continuously, as a refrain of sorts, these prayers speak of compassion while outlining stories of strife and relentless persecution. I can recall imagining the realities behind those snippets, described with such eloquence. In turn, I pictured the actual people embodied in these very events, who endured the distressful incidents poetically narrated within each blessing. Through this reflection, I could put my own problems in much better perspective.
Attending Friday night services at this synagogue became a welcome therapy, an eager path toward greater maturity, that I’ll always treasure. In a sense, I believe it helped define my entrance into adulthood, showing me the immeasurable value of stepping outside of myself to see and appreciate the larger world, with all of its extraordinary injustices, problems, and complexities, around me.
I learned about empathy then and I continue to incorporate this mindset into my thinking to this day. It has made me a kinder, more thoughtful person. Furthermore, this effort allows me to regard my own anxieties from a philosophical stance, always knowing that in the broad continuum of life, others have coped with much greater challenges than I’ve ever faced. So as a writer and, most importantly, as a human being, I’m forever grateful to the phenomenal gift of awareness and appreciation that empathy provides.