There is something I noticed today about how compassion and empathy work. At the news of someone else’s agony, every now and then, I found myself not just grieving for the other but also imagining myself in their place and shuddering at the very thought. I did feel sorry for them but I also thought about how sorry it would be were it me this affliction had come to.
Why did I just do that, I asked myself. An attempt to comprehend the magnitude of someone else’s suffering? An attempt where in we first, selfishly, drag upon ourselves someone else’s misery and soon as we are hit by the possibilities, we pretend to have grasped, alteast to some extent, what they are going through? Why do we unlace our shoes and put ourselves in someone else’s at all and why is it such a celebrated move in the world of emotional intelligence?
“Put yourself in my place”, “Imagine if this was your sister or your mother”. Why should they? Why do we urge this? Do you not think of people being capable of feeling the same emotions of sympathy towards someone they are not tied to by a relationship, a relationship sometimes plainly manufactured by the society? Just as not all tears are created equal, do you think people shed the fattest tears for only their own?
Do we as humans cannot understand in full the suffering of another just as it is? Is it possible to perceive someone else’s sorrow, let it be theirs and feel sorry for them without becoming the wounded person ourself in our heads? Is empathy really about feeling with the heart of another or is it about feeling with our heart just as strongly for another?
If there is one truth, it is that pain in all its diversity is inevitable. I do not know the answers I am asking but I do hope that we build hearts which feel the pain of others just as heavily as our own. Being so connected with everything and everyone in the world through compassion can be self- destructive and tormenting. You might find yourself carrying the weight of the universe. But you will also be the one to keep the dream of a better world alive. And if the voices of anguish from every corner aren’t proof enough, we need you.