Sunday, August 18, 2013

Touching Hearts

One of my greatest memories of studying music at Samford University was being invited to sing in the school’s a capella choir: it was world renown. Singing a capella means the choir is not accompanied by any instruments. The challenge is not simply a matter of staying on key and in tempo, but to immerse one’s self in the choir, a community of singers. Each singer must refrain from singing as if he or she were a solo act: refraining from being “me” and choosing to be “us.”  

I was reminded of this experience the other day, when I was asked how I defined “empathy.”

Empathy chooses to refrain from being a solo-act, and, instead, reaches out to create an “us.”

Empathy is the capacity for experiencing what it is like to live inside someone else’s skin, walk a mile in her shoes, experiencing life as he is. Empathy doesn’t project what I would feel if I were in this person’s situation. On the contrary, being empathetic means my heart is reaching inside the other’s heart and feeling something of what he is feeling.

Empathy is listening with the heart and “Thinking with the blood.” (DH Lawrence, in another context.)

Empathy is touching her heart with your heart.

Empathy wordlessly communicates care and compassion.

True empathy also discerns ulterior motives and agendas, and responds accordingly.

Desperation, self-absorption, or an over-all nonchalance regarding a particular relationship, restricts empathy.

Without a contextually appropriate degree of expressed empathy, our conversations (oral or written) are going to be more like monologues than dialogues. 

Where empathy is lacking so is authentic connection, close friendships, and true community.  

If I asked you to tell me who were the people in your life that mean the most to you, at the top of the list is going to include those individuals who stood by your side at a time of bereavement, confusion, or despair, and were emotionally there for you. Trials, fears, grief: they have a way of stripping your soul naked, reducing you to feeling like one raw and exposed nerve. When this occurs, those to whom you were truly visible, and who supportively connected with you on an emotional level, became one of those rare and special friends whom you will cherish for the rest of your life. This only happens, when we refrain from being solo-acts and choose to create an “us.”

Copyright, Monte E Wilson, 2013


  1. I'm thinking you have a couple books to write, this is really good stuff Monte!