A very dear friend posted a status on Facebook. It is a beautiful reminder that every single person in this world is going through silent struggles, pain and battles that we know nothing about. Her post triggered in me an important message to share about not being so quick to judge someone else.
She writes in part:
“It’s a tremendous challenge to rein in the tendency to be critical, especially since we live, let’s be honest, in a cynical and hyper-critical world. But we possess the ability to change the energy in our surroundings simply by thinking better thoughts! For me, this means that when I walk down the street and offer a smile to someone who doesn’t smile back, instead of mentally withdrawing the good, I was attempting to extend and replacing it with bad – with the knee-jerk thought, “Well, fine! I hope you have a rotten day, too!” I have to force myself to revert first to a place of neutrality. I have to tell myself not to be indignant. Indignation is where the bad thought is conceived. I have to be neutral, and then I can remember that this person is fighting a battle I know nothing about.”
A nice and gentle reminder and probably more nicely stated than I might have done. Kol HaKavod to my friend Ruchama Staples. She is a beautiful women inside and out with much kindness in her heart!
So what prompted my blogpost was something else she wrote: “We are all in need of kindness, sympathy and support.”
It is the word SYMPATHY that got me thinking. Did she really mean sympathy or did she mean empathy? There is a difference and we will explore this..
Let’s look at the classic definitions.
feelings of pity and sorrow for someone else’s misfortune.
understanding between people; common feeling.
the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.
Can you see the subtle difference?
If you were the recipient of someone’s sympathy, would you want them to pity you or would you rather they empathize with you and try to understand your feelings? People do not have to go through the exact experience to appreciate the struggle and pain.
I am thinking about a homeless beggar on the the street. We’ve all come across at least one. Do you even give them a glance? Do you feel annoyed by their presence, for intruding on your reverie? Do even feel sorry for them (pity)? “tsk, tsk, poor thing”.
Or do you take a moment to wonder how they got to be in this situation? What about family, Do they have any loved ones? Is she hungry? Does he have shelter? Does he need a job? Does her husband have a debilitating illness? What kind of physical or mental condition are they in? Are any of their needs being met? When was the last time someone reached out and gently touched their hand or shoulder? Gave them a smile instead of a sneer? How do you think they feel about having to resort to such a humiliating activity? This is empathy.
This is what I believe we are called to feel and be, with and toward others. Your dearest friends or the beggars on the street. Pray for them and support them in any way possible. It is a call to action. Next time you see a beggar, in addition to dropping a coin in the cup, touch their hand and give them a smile. It will do wonders for their soul and spirit.