Finding Empathy

I have something to confess. I judge others. It’s not what I should be doing but sometimes it just comes up. I judge the mother with the kid screaming in Safeway. I judge the person on the Metro that is sharing my personal bubble and clearly didn’t put on deodorant that morning. Sometimes I even judge myself. For example, today I didn’t wake up early to go running like I promised myself (and the 5 alarms I set) that I would. What I often forget is that each person is like me. Doing their best. Struggling at times. Seeking happiness and love. So why is it that I still judge?

It’s easy for me to judge the mother in the grocery store because I don’t have kids myself. I can tell my friend how to be a better wife to her husband, but I am not married nor do I know what it’s like. It’s easy to judge others for things that I am not dealing with personally, or compare my struggles and trials to someone else’s. The problem is, we are not all the same and we can’t expect our experiences to be.

Christ also taught this lesson with the woman who was taken in adultery when he said, “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her”. It is easy to ignore what troubles and mistakes we have in our lives if we can focus on someone else and their mess. We miss out though on the chance to love and have compassion. When we are mindful of others and how they are feeling it leaves less room for judgment and more room for empathy.

The Battle

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle” –Plato

I hate the saying “God won’t give you more than you can handle”. I don’t believe it. God gives us more than we can handle alone, because we aren’t meant to do it alone. As we reach that place where it seems impossible to go on, it is then that we must turn to the Savior for strength and support.

Christ has said “I will not leave you comfortless”. He is the ultimate example of empathy and compassion. Through His suffering in the garden of Gethsemane, He knows what it is like for each of us during all our battles, great and small.

Many of our battles are not always visible by others. Depression, stress, loneliness, heartache, mental illness and feelings of inadequacy are all things that are hard for outside parties to see. There are also those that have more outward struggles that may be physical or circumstantial such as physical disabilities, loss of a job or home or the affects of addictions. One is not greater than another. Each of us is given something that is hard for us to do alone. How can we be more like Christ and have compassion and empathy for others in the midst of the battles they are facing?

A Mile in Their Shoes

I am frequently reminded of the saying, “Don’t judge someone until you walk a mile in their shoes”. Often this is just a figure of speech with a warning about not judging. But for some like Mayor Ben McAdams of Salt Lake City, Utah, it became much more than just a figure of speech.

Mayor McAdams, went undercover as a homeless man for 3 days and 2 nights. McAdams was motivated to see what the needs and issues were with the current shelter. From this experience he was able to see first-hand some of the struggles that the homeless in his city experience. It would have been easy to have just assumed what the issues were. Taking the harder road required giving up daily comforts and security. It also gave him the opportunity to experience more empathy for these people. It is not going to be feasible for each of us to doing something as extreme as Mayor McAdams. There are still plenty of opportunities for each of us to have more empathy towards others.

Developing Empathy

One of the easiest ways to develop empathy and compassion is to just listen. Have you heard of the saying “listen twice as much as you talk”? It takes more than just listening though. You need to be engaged. Be sincere. Refrain from criticism and judgment. Find commonalities and be willing to try new things or ways of thinking. As you open yourself up, you break down walls that may prevent you or the other person from being completely honest and comfortable. As you seek for common ground you will be able to relate to the other person in a new way. Have an open mind. It doesn’t mean you must always agree with the other person. As you try to see things from their perspective it will allow you to have more empathy.

Putting it to Work

As we strive to get to know the person rather than the action or circumstance we will be more apt to see things from a different point of view. Maybe the guy on the Metro ran out of deodorant that morning and was already running late. Or maybe he just didn’t shower and doesn’t care if he smells. Regardless, it’s not my place to be judgmental, especially when my side of the street isn’t clean. Maybe instead of looking at the struggling mother in the grocery store I could let her go ahead of me in the checkout line or make polite conversation. Instead of judging my friend for acting moody I could go out to dinner with her and ask how her week is going – and sincerely want to know the answer.

Look for ways to love and serve others. As we have more compassion and empathy we will grow closer to the Savior and have less negative thoughts. Remember, you don’t have to fight your battles alone. Everyone else around you has their own battles, so be kind to others and yourself.



Modern day insight - delivered to your inbox