Empathy – A Work in Progress

“If you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view, until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.” ~Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird

To Kill a Mockingbird, one of the greatest novels ever written about empathy and the power of one simple value. Atticus Finch was trying to teach his only daughter important life lessons: to feel, to love, to care.  Atticus wasn’t always a favorite for his empathetic ways, but he stuck to his values and believed in the truth and goodness of people.

Tree in bloom, promising renewed life in Spring (West Virginia)

In 1991, English business woman, Anita Roddick, wrote, “I hope to leave my children a sense of empathy and pity and a will to right social wrongs.”

I have been back from West Virginia for four weeks now.  I was thrown back into routine and had very little time to give much thought to my trip and the feelings which I had experienced while there.  What I realize now, however, is that I came back depressed.  This trip was different.  The mountains were beautiful, it was spring and everything was blooming. The creeks and rivers were swollen with spring rains and flowers were starting to bloom.  The scene itself was truly majestic.

Cascade Falls

Unlike the scenery, the people were sad, angry, and depressed.  Not all of them, mind you, and I would be remiss to state that as so.  Several of the boys, though, had very angry, sad, or depressing stories to tell.  If this were my job I would be expected to leave the office and not take my work (the stories) home with me.  I was a volunteer, expected to go in, do the work, and live their life for a week.  What I couldn’t do was not bring a piece of it back with me.  The kids I met had no dreams.  It was depressing to me, that in my own Country, less than seven hours from my home, this existed.  I know that much worse than what I saw exists in other areas of this country.  What truly depresses me is that many people are apathetic about it.  They are not unaware of it. They are apathetic about it.  These are our children, they are our future, and they are being left behind!

“The difference between what we do and what we are capable of doing would suffice to solve most of the world’s problems.” ~Mohandas Gandhi

Some feel that the definition of evil is the absence of empathy.  My question is, would you still be considered evil if you sometimes show empathy?  Is it an all or nothing relationship?  I am not apathetic about it.  I am just frustrated by what I saw.  When I returned home this time, I felt as if I had done nothing.  I felt as if I did not, or could not, possibly make a difference. Although, we were told how volunteers helped to boost the boys’ spirits and they have  greater attendance at work when the volunteers are there.

“The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it. “ ~Albert Einstein

I don’t always practice empathy.  Sometimes, I will feel bad immediately after I say or do something – like the trigger on my impulse control is malfunctioning.  I witnessed a true lack of empathy this past week.  I witnessed hatefulness and vindictiveness to the point of which I am glad I was not a part (although I did have a slight trigger malfunction).  It made me think about my trip, and I guess, in closing, to answer my question, yes, it is all or nothing – for me anyway.  I believe, along with Anita Roddick, that empathy is an important principle and value to practice and most importantly, to teach our children.

Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other’s eye for an instant?  ~Henry David Thoreau