with Lynne and Leslie

Another Analogy About Empathy and What It Isn’t

by SweetMidlife

Lynne here. Bear with me.

We visited. It was beautiful.

We visited. It was beautiful.

Leslie and I visited the beautiful city of Montreal in 2002. We drove there from Leslie’s house in York, Pennsylvania, and we got in our customary twin vacation fight, because we always gt in at least one, and one of us got pulled over for speeding in upstate New York, and I will not say which one of us that was. We stayed in a funky bed and breakfast that was so laid back that the owner went for a trip to the countryside and let Leslie and I check in guests who were coming one of the days we were staying there. We did a lot of walking, and attended a beautiful church, and got lost on the subway when we realized that we were exactly where we started once we got off. We ate amazing crepes, and wished that we could have stayed a couple of days later so we could attend the annual Just For Laughs comedy festival. We saw “The Bourne Identity” while we were there, and we got hit on by weird old restaurant servers,and looked for places that would take Leslie’s brand-new Discover card. All in all, we had an amazing time, and whenever anyone mentions having visited there, or that they are from there, we bring up our trip, and we talk about the fun things that we had there. But if anyone asked what it was like to live there, as a resident, I wouldn’t know. Because we were tourists. And while we spent time there, and have an appreciation for what we saw, and ate, and the people we met, and what we ate, that isn’t the same as actually living in that city, and being a resident. I can’t speak to that, and to pretend that I can based on 5 days there is misguided and insulting to anyone who has actually lived there, especially if their experiences as a resident goes against what I got as a tourist. For me to tell them that they are wrong because their lifetime and the impressions that they got from it were different than what I saw after a few days would be, well, stupid.

And that is what we do when we try to tell people who live different existences than us that we know their lives better than they do, just because we went on our honeymoons where they were from, or because we read an article, or even because we maybe stayed on their side of town. Because visiting a place isn’t the same as living in it, working in it, coming back home to it, being a real moving part of it. And that’s okay. Because this is not a call to not care about things that are different than what you know, or to not want to know more about it. That IS what you should do, because I think empathy is everything, and if you don’t try to understand what people are feeling, then we will never get anywhere.

So where does this leave us?

In a place to listen. To leave yourself open to the reality that you don’t have the right to tell other people that they are mistaken about their actual experiences because they don’t line up with what you thought. Have lunch with someone. Read an article that actually disagrees with what you thought. Please visit places and lives that you are unfamiliar with. This is an encouragement to do that. DO that. And be prepared to have your mind and heart opened by what you hear. Look, I know that we have our own lives, and we don’t have time to visit everywhere and get to intimately know the ins and outs of everyone else and what they go through. But listen where you can. Give their experiences, their very existences, the dignity of listening, and getting to know. And believing them. Cool? There are a million different ways to write about the fact that feeling other people’s losses and victories is a big step in stomping out all kinds of ills in the world. I believe this SO much. And if you can deal with more analogies, I will write more! I hope that’s okay.


4 Responses to “Another Analogy About Empathy and What It Isn’t”

  1. NeelyStoller@gmail.com' Neely says:

    SO MUCH YES in this post! Girl you have a gift for writing!

  2. mtyree55@msn.com' Marcia Tyree says:

    I love this, Lynne. Well said.

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