Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.
It’s not always easy to empathize with people we meet. Most of the time when we encounter someone, we see only the surface, where they are at a moment in time. But how well do we really understand them?
Take Lakesha and Paul, both featured in this issue of Soup for your Soul. On the surface, you’d see two hurting people who’ve made bad decisions in their lives, decisions that led to addiction, violence, prison, loneliness and homelessness. But if that’s all you knew, you wouldn’t truly understand them.
Empathy is hearing someone’s story, his or her entire story, and trying to understand it. It’s not just knowing the decisions they made, but understanding what may have led them to those decisions. Because when you understand the painful traumas of their childhoods, the rejection and regret they endured as adults, only then can you begin to relate to them, to empathize with them.
That’s when you begin to understand that if you had experienced what they had, your life would probably look much the same. That’s why we tell the stories of these extraordinary men and women in our newsletters. When you understand their stories, you begin to understand that we might look different, or come from different backgrounds, but we’re really not so different. We all have the same needs. Our stories may look different. “There, but for the grace of God, go I.”
That’s what sets caring, compassionate people like you apart. As a supporter of the Milwaukee Rescue Mission, you demonstrate real empathy all the time. You read the stories of these hurting men, women and children — and you understand. You care. On behalf of all those we serve, thank you for all you do.
Patrick H. Vanderburgh, D.Min.