If we focus too much on how different others are from us, we could conclude that such differences are flaws or defects. In effect, we would be regarding as inferior those who are different. Once we develop this negative view of others, it becomes difficult to show empathy. Our lack of empathy can be a symptom of a deeper problem—prejudice.
“Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep.”—ROMANS 12:15.
What does it mean? This principle can be summarized in two words—show empathy. Empathy is the ability to put oneself in another’s place and feel what he feels.
How Empathy Helps
When we empathize with someone, we become aware of just how similar we are to that person. We realize that he or she may feel the way we feel and may react the way we react. Empathy helps us to see that all people, no matter what their background may be, are part of the human family. The more we focus on how similar they are to us, the less likely we will be to judge them negatively.
Empathy will also help us to respect others. Anne-Marie, from Senegal, once looked down on people who came from so-called lower castes. She explains how empathy helped her: “When I saw the hardships suffered by those who belonged to lower castes, I asked myself how I would feel in their position. This moved me to question the validity of my supposed higher status—one that I had neither chosen nor earned.” Yes, if we strive to understand another person’s struggles, we are more likely to empathize rather than to criticize.
What You Can Do
Try to see beyond the differences and find similarities between you and people from a group you may view negatively. For example, imagine how they feel when
Empathy helps us to see that all people are part of the human family
eating a meal with their family
finishing a hard day’s work
spending time with friends
listening to their favorite music
Next, try to imagine yourself in their situation. Ask yourself:
‘How would I react if someone made me feel worthless?’
‘How would I feel if others judged me before they even got to know me?’
‘If I were part of their group, how would I like others to treat me?’