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Radically Empathetic

As I write this, my kitchen is an absolute wreck. Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, and Saturday is our first potluck event for Empathy Bound, so needless to say- there is a mix of functional cooking happening as well as a good deal of anxiety-management baking (if you haven’t tried taking your stress out on an innocent blob of bread dough... you are missing out my friend). Yet, despite the abundance of cleaning and cooking I have left to do today, I feel the need to sit down and share a couple of thoughts on empathy.

You see, lately when I have been describing the work of Empathy Bound to people, I have been getting various responses. They are primarily kind; however, sometimes it seems to me that when I use the word empathy people make the implicit assumption that this is a “feel good project” of sorts. Empathy, to me, is not a soft emotion, and it rarely feels good. Empathy is as hardcore as it gets. To truly feel the emotions of another, along with your own, is a challenging experience. I view my relationship with empathy as a struggle, a struggle that has led me to stop watching most tv shows because the feelings and experiences of the characters will keep me up at night. A struggle that has led me into a variety of codependent relationships and at times as guided me far away from the practice of self-care. A struggle that often leaves me burnt-out and exhausted after seemingly simple interactions.

Empathy, for me, is a lifelong journey. I wouldn’t trade this journey for anything in the world, because developing my ability to empathize has brought me some of the deepest connections and joys of my life. Those of you who know me know that I love to say that empathy is radical, but it is rare that even I actually think about what that means. Radical empathy is not social passivism, nor is it a resignation to agree with or be complacent in the views and actions of others. It is not an excuse to avoid our own problems, and it is not a huge abstract concept that cannot be practiced in daily life. Radical empathy is the choice to try to understand, to connect over our common ground and respect our differences. Radical empathy is a deep devotion to not just learning about other people’s experiences on an intellectual level, but to joining them on an emotional level. Radical empathy is the core of change.

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