Thank You Mom and Dad
It is no exaggeration when I tell you that I won the parent lottery. Now don’t get me wrong I am in no way implying they are perfect, they would hate for me to do that and that would be a lie, but they did raise my sister and I with some pretty incredible lessons. One of the most consistent lessons has been about empathy. As I have gotten older I have witnessed my parents’ ability to exemplify that word in a world that is often without it. Research has shown people with a significant capacity for empathy embody the traits listed below. This is my thank you letter to my parents for living these out with their words and their actions.
To see the world as others see it, perspective taking: We can’t help it; we all see life through our own lens. There is nothing innately wrong with that BUT there is something wrong with not understanding that your perspective is not the only one. Two people can look at one situation and have a very different take on it based on their gender, race, socioeconomic background, etc. Knowing there are other perspectives is one important step, but you also have to be able to listen to others’ perspectives. This may be one of my dad’s greatest gifts. I have watched over the years as he has navigated situations, often where there is a lot of tension among different groups, and he has been the one in the middle examining the different perspectives while trying to find healing and common ground. I have had many phone calls with him where I have been frustrated and he has asked me questions that have required me to examine my own response and take in to account the response of others. He has gently reminded me through both his words and his actions that we have a duty to understand that we are not the only people that matter, that our perspective is not the only one, and that we have to open our eyes to the world around us if we ever hope to make a difference.
To be nonjudgmental: This will always be something I am working on (it is difficult for us all of us) BUT my parents have always encouraged me to understand there is more to someone’s story then what meets the eye. I cannot remember my parents commenting on someone’s race, ethnicity, gender, or socioeconomic status as reasons to judge someone. And those things were definitely not going to be used to make anyone feel like less than. I don’t even remember a lot of political talk in my house trying to pull us one in direction or the other. What I remember is two parents with a lot of different life experiences teaching us about grace. I remember two parents who engulfed us in history to try and help us learn from the mistakes of the past, while always reminding us that there is more to people than what we can see. And trying to engrain in us to put judgment aside because you will never know someone without committing to knowing their story and perspective.
To understand a person’s feelings and to communicate your understanding of someone’s feelings: There may be no one in this world that truly connects with other people’s feelings like my mom. I have often worried that her sensitive spirit may be too emotionally taxing on her, and I imagine at times it is. She has this ability to walk in to a room and know, without being told, the person who needs a hug that day or a simple ‘you have been on mind lately, are you doing ok?’ I have told her stories about people she doesn’t even know and she will start to cry for them because she can honestly feel in her soul a piece of that person’s hurt. The way my mom communicates the understanding of someone’s feelings is often through tears. We joke my mom is the heart and my dad is the mouth. Many times she has felt so deeply for someone else that my dad will step in and finish her words for her, while she squeezes a hand or holds someone in a hug. They have both taught me that it is not our job to feel exactly what someone else is or to even pretend to understand it, but to simply be there, to let people know they are not alone, to make a connection with someone and mean it.
The truth is I still have a ways to go in my ability to be empathetic like I should be, there is still more to learn, and there is always ego to put aside. There are plenty of days I see only my perspective, my biases, or my feelings, but I am beyond thankful that I have two living and breathing examples of what it should look like. Two people who have chosen to raise their daughters with a simple lesson about striving to be light in the dark. In a world that can often seem cold and too often forgets those who need someone the most, it is our job to step in to empathy, to be the best display of it that we can be, and to connect with people. You cannot change the world if you cannot learn to empathize with those in it.