As human beings, we feel the need to connect with one another on a personal level. We allow ourselves to feel a certain amount of validation, understanding that we aren’t alone in our struggles or opinions. But is empathy always warranted?
It was impossible for my father to truly empathize with my mother as she went through childbirth. Saying “it’s alright, I know how you feel” would sound completely ridiculous, despite how well intentioned. No, you don’t know how she feels. Are we able to understand that it is OK to grant the other person the complexity of their identity, and not try to belittle it by imposing our own personal feelings on them? Can we just listen and be humble enough to say: “That must have been very difficult, I can’t imagine what that was like?”
Because we live in an entitled world, we have gone so far as to feel entitled to the understanding of every person’s real-world experience. You don’t have the right to pretend to feel what I have felt just like I don’t have the right to assume my personal experiences are synonymous with yours.
Rachel Stanger, Boise