Would it surprise you that a poll taken of American people showed that “very few people care one way or another about public apathy?” What a sad commentary on so much of our society today. It is bad enough that there are people who do not care about many of the significant issues of our time. But to not even care about our not caring. Wow, that is incredible!
To have empathy is to care enough to feel with others. It is to care about our common humanness. It is to try to put oneself in other people’s situation and feel what they are feeling. Try as we might, we can never put ourselves inside the skin of another and know exactly what they are going through. Having had a similar experience is close. But given our unique personalities and the fact that we all process reality slightly differently, all experience (and feelings) is personal.
Nevertheless, as a person of faith, I believe we are called to care. We are called to care about others, especially those who suffer. If to empathize with another means to come as close to feeling what the other feels as possible, then I believe compassion and empathy go hand in hand.
The word compassion is derived from the Latin words pati and cum, which together mean “to suffer with.” It is to feel passion/suffering with another. In today’s world where suffering and pain abounds, I believe we are called to cry out with those in misery, to weep with those in tears and to share in the pain, brokenness and anguish of others.
The American poet and journalist Walt Whitman, who volunteered during the Civil War as an army nurse in Washington, expressed the needful gesture: “I did not ask the wounded man how he felt, I felt myself become the wounded man.”
I believe we are created in the image of God and as such are called to care and share in the suffering of others. I often wonder what God must feel when seeing all the suffering we as God’s children inflict on one another.
All one has to do is mention 9/11 and immediately we are in touch with empathy and compassion. But what about the thousands upon thousands of people killed and injured as a result of the wars and violence going on in our world today. Those people (children, civilians and soldiers) are all God’s children as well. I can only imagine how God’s heart breaks for them. Mine does too. And yet, and yet, it is so easy to become numb…
There can never really be any peace and joy for me until there is peace and joy finally for you too, and for all God’s children everywhere. What this often times insensitive world needs is more empathy.
Rev. Dr. David D. Young is the senior minister at The Neighborhood Church in Palos Verdes Estates.