I recognize that this case matters. The death of Mike Brown matters.
However, what I feel lead to discuss today is the one thing you and I have control over in this situation, which is our ability to shut up extend compassion and empathy for ALL involved.
Compassion and empathy for white people. Compassion and empathy for black people. Compassion and empathy for mankind.
Violence isn’t healing our nation. Spewing ugly “us” versus “them” comments on Facebook isn’t bringing us closer towards solidarity. I honestly don’t see anything being said today that I’d be proud to have our sons read in the history books 100 years from now.
As I’ve said before in my post about Trayvon Martin, “The road to true equality is paved by discussion and understanding.” I believe that begins with one of the most powerful tools God has given our psyche: empathy.
Romans 12:15 says that we are to “weep with those who weep”.
If you’re a follower of Christ, let me be very clear:
No matter how you feel about this case, you are called to weep with those who are weeping – our black brothers and sisters who feel like their voices aren’t being heard, the store owners who have lost their businesses, Mike Brown’s family, officer Darren Wilson’s family, and an entire community whose hearts feel crushed during this tumultuous time.
What Empathy Is:
Empathy is “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.” Simply put, it’s the ability to see the world as someone else sees it.
Empathy is feeling with someone.
Empathy is a 4 part process:
1. Intentionally observing and internalizing the emotions of another | This takes patience
2. Removing our judgment and expectations of the person we’re trying to empathize with | This takes discipline
3. Recognizing their emotion in a way that we’ve experienced or can relate to | This takes courage
4. Communicating it back to the person you’re empathizing with | This takes love
I love this quote by Leslie Jamison from The Empathy Exams: Essays:
“Empathy isn’t just listening, it’s asking the questions whose answers need to be listened to. Empathy requires inquiry as much as imagination. Empathy requires knowing you know nothing. Empathy means acknowledging a horizon of context that extends perpetually beyond what you can see.”
It’s seeing someone in the pit, hearing their cry, climbing down into the muck and mire with them and saying, “I see you, I hear you, I feel you… I am here with you.”
[LIVING IT OUT]
It’s the white mom saying to the black mom, “I may not understand your outrage over what’s happening in Ferguson, but as a mother, I can understand the fear of losing a child, no matter the circumstance that surrounds it.”
Empathy takes courage.
What Empathy Isn’t:
Empathy is not looking down in the pit and saying, “What you’re saying/doing is ugly and I want no part of it.”
Empathy is not about casting judgment or placing your own expectations onto another person.
Empathy isn’t about whether or not you agree with the person. It doesn’t mean you condone their actions. It doesn’t mean you have to fully understand it.
Empathy doesn’t divide.
Empathy fuels connection.
How To Become More Empathetic:
Most people are born with a natural empathy towards others. That’s why we wince when we see someone get hurt or why we feel sad for someone who’s lost a loved one.
Empathy is a continuum of sorts. Some of us can tap into empathy rather quickly – we just look at someone and understand how they’re feeling. Others of us have to really work at it. We have to sit and talk over coffee and spend time connecting to the other person’s emotions until we “get it.”
Thankfully, empathy is like a muscle. We can train it and grow it and learn to use it more consistently as we exercise it in our daily lives.
This is done in two ways:
1. Understanding ourselves. (If you aren’t “in touch” with yourself, you’ll find it very difficult to share someone else’s emotions.)
2. Understanding others.
[LIVING IT OUT]
If you’re white, it might be taking the time to ask your black friends why many of them feel minimized, discredited and ignored.
If you’re black, it might be taking the time to ask your white friends why some feel a white cop is being persecuted because of the color of his skin.
What Happens When We Can’t Empathize With Others:
The hard truth is that sometimes we simply can’t find a personal experience to relate to another person’s suffering. Sometimes, no matter how hard we try, we just can’t empathize with them.
This is where compassion kicks in. Compassion is having “sympathetic concerns for the sufferings of others.” It’s often accompanied by a deep longing to help alleviate the pain of others.
You may have zero empathy for a teenager who gets shot after choosing to steal from a drugstore. You may not be able to connect at all with a cop who shoots an unarmed teenager.
But you can choose to care for both.
You can choose to pray for them. You can choose to let love pour out instead of anger. You can choose to forgive rather than burn with bitterness.
Don’t get it twisted: Empathy is powerful stuff. It’s vulnerable stuff. It’s miracle-working stuff.
Sometimes it’s downright painful to search within ourselves to dig up a feeling that can connect with another. Sometimes it really hurts our pride to let go of what our reaction would be in the same situation, and instead, accepting the other party’s emotions for what they are: their emotions.
Ultimately, the goal of empathy is to connect with another person, to understand where they are coming from with the hope of shrinking the gap between “us” a little more each time.
The trauma that Ferguson, MO is experiencing is gut-wrenching. No matter how you slice it, people are hurting. Right or wrong. They. Are. Hurting. Instead of judging their hurt, let’s sit in it with them. Let’s try to understand.
Back to the title of this post – if we’re going to start somewhere, let’s start by shutting up and listening to the people who feel differently than we do.
Connection is what people want. Let’s give it to ’em.
We’re all in this together. Let’s start acting like it.