I was walking up the stairs from the F train platform at 2nd Ave., when a young woman skirted down past the throngs of us ascending. As she squeezed by, I promptly heard a guttural “Ugggh!” and saw exactly the face I imagined to accompany.
The woman, brushed by this commuter, turned around to face the rushing culprit who’d just invaded her sacred space. And she evidently wanted to ensure that the offender was not in too much of a rush to see the full extent of her facial wrath, in case she could have possibly missed the auditory displeasure.
At that time, I felt an ache in my heart.
Could we not have one moment of empathy?
Who has not been in the situation of pressure needing to catch a train? – When the train is about to leave the station, the urge grips you to make a run for it. When others are obstructing your path to making that train, it’s every bit as aggravating as being bumped in the process.
The hurried woman who made the bump was not particularly tactful, agreed. But if we were to put ourselves in her shoes for but a moment, it would be difficult to download our frustration onto her and twist the proverbial knife. Moreover, our hurried woman did not strike me as carrying an apathetic air, but rather a sympathetic air, which truly takes a moment of presence to perceive.
Later that night, over dinner with Rasanath and another friend, I shared my experience from the subway – it still bothered me... I expressed the idea of a moment’s empathy and gained the following response from our friend:
“You see, that’s why you’re ENLIGHTENED and others are not!”
“Hardly”, I replied, “I simply try”.
And this is really doable!
Then another friend ran into us and sat for a little while. Without the context of our conversation, she proceeded to unapologetically declare, “I just go ahead and shove people in the subway…whoever stands in my way…”. She said she did so today as well… Rasanath and I both looked at each other and laughter took over us. It was almost mystical! She spontaneously needed to get the pressing issue off of her chest… But because the lady is a wonderful soul, I could empathize with the side of frustration too. And certainly, I have my myriad failings on the empathy front.
When we’re in need, we don’t have the emotional space to consider the needs of the other.
I rigorously endeavor to create that space for the natural empathy which flows between conscious compatriots on this planet. And at the close of the day, I could only wish that we would not miss what’s really at stake when we invest in but a moment of empathy …or what’s really at stake when we don’t…
Our world is made up of these little gaps in empathy that grow into gulfs. These tiny gaps that rapidly morph into gulfs are the root of our universal sufferings. And suffering only breeds more suffering in this way.
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
When we empathize, we experience compassion, the soothing balm of receiving and being received.
Compassion comes from the Latin – ‘Com’ meaning ‘with’ and ‘passion’ meaning suffering. Compassion, etymologically, means ‘to suffer with.’ And that suffering together is actually healing. When we’re heard and understood, but most of all felt, we heal. We all suffer less, when we suffer with. And it diffuses the frustration of others as well as ourselves. It bridges the gaps between us.
Can we afford to spare but a moment of empathy?
At the very least, we must ask, what is the price of our not doing so?
It’s not unnatural to empathize. It just requires that we give ourselves a moment to understand situations and people.
and what is the price of not doing so?