Three syllables, seven letters, not a very big word at all, or is it?
Empathy goes far beyond sympathy, which might be considered ‘feeling for’ someone. Empathy, instead, is ‘feeling with’ that person, through the use of imagination.
Being married for 25 years makes me think I’m empathetic. But when discussions turn into heated arguments who is responsible for showing empathy first? Isn’t she supposed to experience the same emotions, or feelings, that I’m experiencing, and vice versa? Is our empathy supposed to be in sync? Isn’t having empathy supposed to prevent arguments from escalating to the point where I feel like it’s useless to continue talking? Isn’t it better to not say anything if what you say isn’t being understood?
Maybe I need to use more imagination to get her to imagine what I’m feeling. And how can I do that when she says “I am using empathy, I put myself in your shoes, and it still wouldn’t bother me.” Does that mean that I’m not using my imagination to imagine what she’s feeling when she says she wouldn’t be bothered by how I’m feeling?
There are many definitions of empathy, the one I’m most familiar with is “you can’t understand my experiences until you walk a mile in my shoes.” Is that imaginative enough? Does it help me “understand the feelings, beliefs, hopes and experiences that make up their view of the world?” (Empathy Library) I thought I had a pretty good grasp on those things after 25 years of marriage. But I don’t.
I think there’s a lot more to empathy than three syllables and seven letters. Maybe my homo empathicus needs to be more dominant instead of my homo sapien.