In a book called Profit First, there’s a story where a man, through terrible spending habits and bad investments, loses all his money. He sits down with his family on Valentine’s Day and bursts into tears as he tells them the horrible news.
His 9-year-old daughter gets up from the table and leaves. He doesn’t blame her. He is so ashamed of what he’s done. She has every right to be mad at him.
She returns with her well-loved piggy bank, full of her savings, and gives it to him. She says, “Daddy, we’re going to make it.”
This is empathy.
Empathy is the ability to imagine yourself in someone else’s shoes. And no, not to say, “Well, if I were them, I would know better!” or “If I were them, I would’ve done or thought differently!” Well, you don’t have their past experiences, knowledge, trauma or brain wiring, so honestly, that’s probably not true.
And that’s not how empathy works.
Empathy is not projecting your beliefs, your brain wiring or skills onto someone else, but immersing yourself in their world, imagining their past, their heartache, their suffering. It’s trying to understand why they are acting the way they are, why they believe the way they do, and how they feel. It’s asking them what’s going on, and requires hearing their experiences and their pain, and instead of dismissing them, believing them and sorrowing with them.
It requires an imagination, and a willingness to try to understand.
Some people are genuinely evil, and I will never understand them. But those people are few. Most people are doing the best they know how.
I believe that it’s by learning true empathy—seeking to genuinely “mourn with those that mourn… and comfort those that stand in need of comfort” (Mosiah 18:9) that we can build bridges over gaps of understanding that divide people, cure hatred with love and compassion, and ultimately heal the world.
It starts right here, with us, in our homes and communities. If everyone sought, in their own heart and home, to exercise empathy right where they are, it would change the whole world. If we diligently put in the work to expand our hearts and exercise empathy, and teach our children empathy, the world will heal.