The Enduring Power of Empathy

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Growing up, I watched Star Trek: The Next Generation with my father all the time. One of the characters, Counsellor Deanna Troi, was a half-Betazoid/half-Human possessing extraordinary empathic abilities which made her particularly good at her job. She could closer her eyes and get a reading on the general mood of everyone on the ship, and she could also tell if people were lying or being truthful, among other things. 10-year old me thought this was mysterious and novel, but now the adult version of me understands the true power of empathy and how any run-of-the-mill human can develop it.

As a writer, I would be nothing without empathy. How could I ever understand the people and communities I’m writing for unless I can empathize with them? By putting myself in the other’s shoes and attempting to see the world through their eyes I gain a deeper understanding of whatever it is they’re going through. This is powerful in many areas of life. Whether I’m writing a story about a new CNIB community hub that opened up in the city, or when my roommate tells me about his struggles with obtaining citizenship in Canada, I feel what they feel. I see what they see.

It is not easy, and it does not come without pain. When you open your mind and heart to the world it can easily flood your senses and overwhelm you. It can be especially hard for men to have empathy because we’re conditioned from a young age to bottle up our emotions and only let them out in privacy, never sharing them with the world. Real men, we are told, don’t cry. They are stoic and steady, always eschewing logic over emotion. As such, men by and large have terrible emotional intelligence.

This is an unhealthy way to go through life. We should teach the next generation of men to understand their own emotions, and those of others as well. All human beings have emotions regardless of their gender and ignoring them is disastrous for your mental health. Many people turn to drugs and alcohol to numb their pain, to turn themselves off from the world and blind themselves. The problem is that these buried and muted problems have a way of resurfacing in more harmful ways. Only by facing the thoughts and feelings that torment us, as well as the ones that bring us joy, can we attain balance and inner peace. Self-empathy is just an important as empathy for others. You are only human after all.

In our modern times many people are so wrapped up in their own lives, so ensconced in their own affairs, that they shut down when it comes to relating to other people’s pain. We are all too busy to open our hearts, to lend a hand and help our fellows stand or give them a shoulder to cry on when they feel weak. The technological trappings of our modern world have separated our hearts and placed them into compartments insulated from everyone else. We have forgotten how to empathize.

I believe that empathy is one of the keys to lasting peace and unity. If we could all empathize with each other and understand one another’s passions and difficulties with openness and acceptance, the world would be a much better place. We are all so quick to judge and compare, but what we really need is to listen to each other; to accept that everyone is different and must walk their own path.

Challenge yourself to empathize with someone today. It could be someone of a different religion, or race, or gender identity. Just because you prescribe to X,Y, and Z, doesn’t mean everyone else has to as well. Even though “the other” is different, you can understand them, accept them, and even love them. Through empathizing with our fellow humans, we engender unity and a better world for everyone.

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