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Empathy and difference

Empathy and difference

In our relations with a beloved or beloved others, or simply Others, we are inevitably confronted by difference. We need to constantly try to make sense of requests, comments, flattery, or criticism coming, as it can seem, from another universe.

We deal with difference through a human capacity for empathy, a core element of living from love, the ability to imaginatively enter the universe of others, to divine what is going on for them while being aware of how our personal experience shapes what we make of what we see and hear.

Even with lots of discussion and quizzing of the other’s universe, empathy is necessarily inadequate. It means suspending prejudice, parking comfort zones and being open to surprise. It means appreciating that there are innumerable other ways of being in the world other ways of carrying on a life that are unimaginably different from mine.

At its best, empathy, aware of its limitations, is necessarily tentative. Even if we are invited to embrace another’s universe, it would be an illusion to believe that we can do more than pick up the headlines of the myriad stories and events that compose a person. And yet the empathy that the co-inquiry of living from love builds, can take us deep into rapport with a beloved, significant others, and strangers.

While empathy, and its cousin sympathy, are intrinsically supportive, I don’t mean to imply here that empathy means signing up to loyalty oaths, or buying into belief systems and values that seem unhelpful or damaging. In the context of living from love, empathy means finding the courage to sit with the hidden, the unfamiliar, and the inexplicable, in persons and situations, until they reveal themselves, or until for the moment, our patience is exhausted.

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This document was last modified on 2005-11-05 07:21:51.