Hearing this sentence spoken aloud made me laugh—probably more than it should have.
“We need to help our president. We really do. Because we should be showing the empathy he doesn’t have. I think he tries, but I think it’s lost somewhere between his hair and somewhere else. […] So come on man—show some empathy.” ~ José Andrés
And then those words began to sink in. Slowly.
I wasn’t laughing anymore.
Instead I flashed back to a conversation I’d had with my mom when I was in high school. Who knows why some conversations stick with you and some don’t, it’s a mystery. For some reason, this one has never left me.
We were in the car and she was driving.
I looked at her and I asked if she and my dad had intentionally raised my brothers and I to be empathetic.
At the time, I was a teenager teaching a room of three-year-olds Sunday school classes each week and I was getting an education myself by doing so. If you ask me—not that you have—passing the test of managing a room of 12 toddlers without any incidents of biting, screaming, or bloodletting should be required before one is allowed to fully adult.
But, back to the point: I was watching my classroom begin to awaken to the concept of empathy.
Empathy is defined as the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner.
I know what the word means and I still had to read that three times.
Empathy is the concept of theoretically placing yourself in another’s life and understanding how they feel. Sympathy, while similar, is the sharing of another’s feelings in a logical, analytical sense.
My mom and I talked for the rest of that car ride about teaching empathy to young people. Over the years since this conversation, I’ve often circled back to it in my thoughts.
Empathy is a skill in life, just like any other. It should be taught and it should be honed, kept sharp. If we don’t use a muscle, it dies. If we forget to feel with others, these muscles will die as well.
Empathy is a gift. It transcends language, time, culture, and ethnicity. It opens doors and shatters glass ceilings. Empathy is the thing that keeps us connected to our human experience and to those around us.
Empathy is a form of communication that humankind cannot afford to lose. It’s far too valuable and rare a commodity to trade in for our 21st century fast-paced, instant gratification platitudes. We owe ourselves more than that.
Our president is lacking in the empathy department, to say it mildly. What’s worse is that he doesn’t even realize his loss. But, I have faith in the humanity of our citizens.
I don’t profess to know the answers. What I do know is that Mr. Andrés was speaking to me, to you, to each of us. He was begging us to exercise those muscles so they don’t atrophy and waste away.
His call to action is simple:
We have to care, hard.
We have to speak it. We have to show it. And we have to teach it.