Why Does Empathy Matter?
I always knew from the bottom of my heart that empathy was the key to bring people together in the most fulfilling ways: emotionally, spiritually, and even intellectually. Yet I couldn’t articulate why it was essential. Therefore, today is my first attempt to articulate it the best I can.
I grew up with a stoic, inexpressive, yet angry father and a sychophantic, anxious mother. My father physically and verbally abused me throughout my entire childhood, because that was his way of showing his support — even though abuse was a very wrong way to show love. I didn’t grow up in a place where I was able to safely express my thoughts, ideas, and especially feelings. I remember when I was getting punished, I would have to lay out my hands so that my father can hit them with a huge wooden stick. If I would cry or flinch, he would add more hits. Any form of rebellion especially after getting punished would turn into a rampage: my father would throw around his stick uncontrollably while yelling at me, “Why do you never listen to me?! How are you so stupid?! You are so worthless!” But the scariest times were when he wouldn’t say anything at all and his face would turn pale and you wouldn’t know what he was capable of doing next. Sometimes that “next” was him dragging you to the bathroom to beat the shit out of you with his stick or sometimes, if the stick breaks, his hands. Or sometimes that “next” would be his stick flying everywhere and he wouldn’t give a shit if he beat your legs, your arms, or your head. I always thought it was disturbing for anyone to hit someone on the head, because I always viewed my head as something sacred, something that I relied on every day to survive. My mother would usually try to run in the middle between us to take the blows and to stop the chaos. That’s why she was always so anxious, because she was afraid of my father, probably more than I was. She always focused on everyone getting along. So I had a mother and a father who came from opposite ends of not being able to express their feelings. With my father, I was afraid of getting abused if I showed my true emotions. With my mother, I couldn’t even talk about my emotions because that evoked discomfort and confrontation — and confrontation was highly denounced in my family.
So while I was growing up, I had a lot of pent up emotions and feelings I was never able to work through and heal from until after I learned about empathy — which was only a few years ago. I began to heal when I learned about storytelling and having a space for people and their thoughts and feelings to be acknowledged, and for people to relate and even live vicariously through their stories.
I think the reason I cry a lot now is that I’m making up for all the times I couldn’t cry, and for all the times I couldn’t be sad and angry at my parents, or at the world. I’ve shunned my childhood wounds and buried them for as long as I could until I felt a strong injustice of what I went through: not only the abuse, but the need to compress and hide my feelings in order to survive. I never want ANYONE to go through what I went through, or even anything remotely similar to what I went through.
Through empathy I was able to learn more about myself and the world, learn that I wasn’t alone in my experiences (fortunately and unfortunately), forgive my parents and the world, let go, and heal. I decided that receiving love is a choice. I needed to make the choice to receive love, be loved, and love others in order to help others heal.
I also learned that just because people do bad things doesn’t mean they are bad people, and same goes for the other way around — just because people do good things doesn’t mean they are good people. Human beings are a combination of good and bad. Empathy helps you understand that life is not black or white, that life is actually very, very gray. There are no straight answers most of the time, and that’s what makes life so painful and difficult yet so beautiful. I know that my father has good intentions, but because he was never able to heal from his childhood wounds, it seeped into my life. I know that because my mother couldn’t deal with the truth of my emotions and her emotions, she locked them up and never dared to open it. A lot of the time, people make mistakes not because they have bad intentions, but because it’s too painful for them to deal with their issues head-on. Or sometimes, they don’t even know how to deal with them.
Empathy helps you understand people deeply, encourages curiosity, and can heal yourself as well as others. It’s a gift that should be shared among all communities and all walks of life. Even if you might not have dealt with something so traumatic, empathy can be used in all aspects of your life: your career, your love life, your family, your friendships, and especially yourself.
This is why empathy is crucial to bringing love, peace, and happiness to our world and into our lives. Our world needs a lot of healing to do, and it starts with empathy.