Due to the horrific tragedy that has taken place in Israel, we are unveiling a special Beasley Best Community of Caring initiative focused on tolerance, respect, and empathy. For the next few weeks, we will publish features encouraging those values.
You hear a lot of people talking about empathy these days. We’re in a very divisive era: disagreements about national and international political issues cause sharp divides between friends, family members and colleagues. Sometimes the chasm seems too far to cross. Sometimes, unfortunately, the chasm is too far to cross. But this isn’t always the case. And it’s empathy that allows us to see things from another person’s perspective. This may sound a little bit trite. It isn’t. Empathy entails opening your eyes (and heart) to someone else’s experiences. Those experiences may be completely unlike yours. Other people’s experiences may have led them to believe something that contradicts your dearly-held beliefs.
Empathy is not sympathy, although there are similarities (and some people use them interchangeably). Sympathy is when you care and concern for someone. You wish things were better for them; you hope they can be happier. For most people, sympathy isn’t too difficult. It doesn’t require much of you. Empathy is different and it requires a lot more. Exercising empathy may entail considering ideas that run counter to those of the people closest to you: your family and your friends. You might experience peer pressure against expressing empathy for others. Having empathy can entail taking a hard look at deeply and long-held beliefs. And it doesn’t mean you will abandon or change your beliefs. It only means that you are willing to examine why other people might have opposing beliefs instead of seeing them as “wrong,” or worse, “bad.”
As mentioned above, this essay was inspired by the conflict in the Middle East, but it isn’t specifically about that. However, as families gather in the next few weeks for Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and other celebrations, there will surely be opposing opinions about any number of issues. The Middle East will surely be one of them. It might also be a topic that has come up in the workplace. If you’re going to go there and have the conversation, empathy might help to keep things civil.
Empathy helps us to avoid tribalism and absolutes. Dan Rather has been a voice of reason in American media for six decades. In his latest essay on Substack, “Anger And Sadness,” he says, “To mention both [the suffering and pain of Israelis and Palestinians] and feel pain for all is not false equivalence; it is an acknowledgment that human suffering will be the most enduring legacy of this conflict, as it is of all wars.”
He adds, “It is possible to ache for those on both sides of the divide.” Empathy allows for this, and it is more important than ever today.