Compassion and empathy do not happen without sharing in the responsibility to care for another’s actual needs.
Compassion and empathy are not just feelings. Human beings are not just hearts. We are feelers but we are also thinkers, believers and doers. Each one of us has a spirit, heart, mind and body that is interconnected, interrelated and interdependent.
Feelings that do not move us to action are useless and are disconnected from their purpose to help us to know what to do. Compassion and empathy are as much a physical response as they are an emotional response, and vice versa.
Perhaps, the reason why we do not have compassion or empathy for other human beings is that we are disconnected from our own needs and experiences. If we don’t know ourselves and we don’t respond with compassion and empathy to those needs and experiences, then how do we connect with other’s needs and experiences. I have never met a person, who showed compassion and empathy to themselves, and did not have compassion and empathy for others.
A compassionate and empathetic person is a healthy person. They know their fragility and weakness. They know their limitations and they know their vulnerability. In knowing themselves in this intimate way, they are able to respond to themselves and their lives with the greatest care and kindness to give themselves the things they desperately need to live.
Often times, I wonder if we were as compassionate and empathetic as we think we are, then why are we not sacrificing more. How can a compassionate and empathetic person overlook the needs of people all around us? How do we step over a homeless person, steer clear of a poor neighborhood and avoid the men, women and children who desperately need help, if we are compassionate and empathetic? I think about how easy it has been for me to feel compassion and empathy but how few times those feelings have moved me to act.
I like to believe that I have compassion and empathy for the unborn. It seems that I am compassionate and empathetic enough to call myself pro life but how can I be pro life if I am not compassionate and empathetic for all life. How can I pretend that I am pro life if I don’t value my own life enough to take care of myself. Am I pro life if I have never given anything to support the homeless, the disabled, foster kids, single moms, prisoners and the elderly. And, I have never volunteered at a school, worked at a preschool or daycare, or looked to help struggling moms, who decided to have their babies. Am I really pro-life and am I really compassionate and empathetic if I can decide which lives I value, and I pick and choose who I have compassion and empathy for.
Remember, watching a movie does not make us compassionate or empathetic. Having a belief does not make us compassionate or empathetic. Liking a post, being in a particular political party or going to church does not make us compassionate or empathetic.
If our lives are so insulated from the needs of others and from even knowing anyone with any needs or we refuse to give ourselves, our time and our money to help people who have needs, then we will never have the opportunity to be or become compassionate and empathetic. Without acknowledging the responsibility for my neighbor and moving to help my neighbor, then I have no opportunities to know my neighbor and no way to have compassion or empathy for my neighbor.
It has been so easy for me to disconnect what I believe and feel from what I do. I truly believe if we had compassion and empathy for human life, then we would have it for all creatures and creation and that includes our very own selves. Compassion and empathy starts with our own spirits, hearts, minds and bodies, the places we live and for all the people who live in our communities.
It is so easy to speak and act without compassion and empathy to people we don’t know. I just have to wonder if that’s the reason why we are suffering from epidemics of diet-related disease and sickness, loneliness and relational strife. Do we not know ourselves? Consequently, does this explain the lack of compassion and empathy we have for others? Is it the overflow from our own hearts?