Monday, January 4, 2010

It's five degrees outside...

...and I have no desire to recreate any scenes from the Donner Party. So that amounts to Jen, sitting in front of her laptop with white chocolate cocoa in hand, thinking too much. Now, if you know me at all... that unequivocally means trouble. Period.

Tonight, I was remembering a lesson from elementary school (an undisclosed number of years ago). It was about words that are hard to tell apart. Like the difference between sympathy and empathy, for instance. For a long time, it seemed like the two words were one in the same. But as I got older, I learned that this was hardly the case. I learned that sympathy was akin to pity, to feeling sorry for someone. It was easier to sympathize than to empathize. Empathy, on the other hand, had more to do with feeling with the person than for them. Empathy required more extending of the heart, but it was far more valuable, because it meant you experienced, albeit in your own way, what someone was experiencing, rather than simply observing their pain.

So, I wonder, how many people really remember the concept of empathy? Does it seem like we're far from it? Like we're becoming colder toward one another? How quick are we to say something potentially hurtful without considering twice how you'd feel were the shoes swapped?

I love the modern world. I love it to pieces. It has allowed for so much opportunity, growth and awareness. But, part of me also views our culture as a desensitizing factor. We're plugged in, online, interactive, virtual and pixilated... but we're not really connected. We aren't reaching one another on the levels we should be, not really getting to know each other face to face. This leads to all kinds of problems. It's easy not to believe in the humanity of another or the depth of their hurt or the validity of their feelings when you only ever see a screen name and user icon. And it's easy to forget that whatever we perceive from our limited vantage point in this world is not the true picture... it's just one person's mental portrait.

Empathy is nifty. It makes it easier to love. And today, when we're so tempted to define a person by their tweets, blips, statuses or email threads, empathy is especially called for. After all, the world is an angry place anymore, full of snap judgments and skewed opinions, and these haven't done a single bit of good. On the contrary--things are looking a little scary out there.

So peace, everyone, and let's all think before we speak. After all... no one can truly comprehend anyone else but himself... and heck, even that's a life-long question mark!

Much stubborn love,

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