Have you ever wondered if you would save the life of a stranger? I have made myself contemplate being able to save someone from drowning? I have questioned myself about if I would jump into a cold and deep river to try to pull someone to safety. If a person was drowning, even if I might also perish, I would help save a stranger’s life.
There is no question in my mind that I value a person’s right to survive and to live, and I would hold nothing back to help them as a fellow human being, deserving of all the same things I hoped for in my own life.
This exercise of imagining the human need to survive and my desire to help that need reconnected me with my humanity. I identified with a way to love a fellow human being trying to survive, like all of us, through the unlimited potential drowning we all face as we try to move safely through our daily lives, to survive, and also succeed and thrive. I found my path to empathy through imagining.
No one gets through life without pain. What causes one person pain looks different than what causes pain for others. Because we can’t ever truly see or know what causes pain for the other people we encounter – we are walking into dangerous unmarked territory. We can’t get to know everyone we encounter on a deeply personal level because we don’t have the time to listen to every survival story happening around us.
Awareness that others DO have a story, and that it’s as compelling and fraught with pain and travail as our own, works to create a sense of being on a common path. We find we can actually trust each other’s intentions, despite behavior that can sometimes trigger our own pain, and this leads us to pure and unassailable empathy. Nothing could do your life (and your blood pressure) better than to find yourself in the land of inner empathy and to stay there as long as possible.
Empathy isn’t only about walking a mile someone else’s shoes. It’s also a knowing and believing that life is painful for everyone in some way – your pain is not more important than your neighbors. Empathy promotes a sense of compassion that bridges your humanity and mine and with this we can feel more safe and hopeful every day.
Dawna Daigneault, Ed.S., LPC.
Better By Monday is a blog about one thing you can do, over the weekend, to feel a little bit better by Monday.