Can Pain Cultivate Empathy in Us?

Research suggests yes, and even the unlikely can grow. But our suffering Savior is the best model.
I had forced myself to get out of bed to go to a small party at a friend’s house but soon found myself regretting it. I was cornered by an older mother who embarked into a long monologue on her sorrow over her children growing up and leaving her arms empty. Another friend flanked me, her wide eyes assessing me in panic. Just six weeks prior, my infant daughter had passed away from a heart defect. My arms had been physically aching since her sudden loss, a common phenomenon many mothers experience after losing a baby. My friend understood how painful this conversation must be to me, even though I smiled and nodded my way through it.
What gave one friend insight into how I was feeling at that moment? Empathy. Empathy, unlike sympathy, is not merely feeling sorry for another, but it is putting yourself in another’s shoes. It is envisaging what it must feel like to be in their position. She was able to imagine what it felt like to lose a child, show up at a party, and be in this conversation, so she felt my pain along with me. She, along with many others, made a lasting impression on me. In my hour of need, they showed me the true value of empathetic compassion.
Not everyone has empathetic friends. In fact, there is a growing concern that Americans are becoming less empathetic. This is troubling because empathy is a cornerstone characteristic of a healthy society. More than that, it’s the very marrow of Christian love.
Alarmingly, incoming college students after 2000 were found to be up to 40 percent less empathetic than past generations. It only takes a quick Google search to find articles bemoaning the effects an unempathetic generation can have on our political, societal, and religious communities. Thankfully, …Continue reading…