I have taken full advantage of the recent gloomy Vancouver weather by spending time catching up on my reading. Like some of you, I enjoy reading 3 or 4 books, various magazines and newspapers all at once! One recurring theme has been popping up for me and that is the topic of empathy.
I enjoyed reading an opinion piece in the Globe and Mail and it got me thinking about the importance of empathy.
As Marta Zaraska, has pointed out, empathy did not make most people’s resolutions for 2021. She adds “In one of his speeches, former U.S. president Barack Obama noted that “we live in a culture that discourages empathy.” He blamed the empathy crisis on the selfish impulses promoted by our culture: to be entertained, famous, thin and rich. Mr. Obama was partly right to point his finger at the pursuit of riches – studies confirm that those who are financially very well off tend to score low on empathy.”
Ms. Zaraska, through her research, finds a strong link between empathy and better friendships and better marriages. And better relationships have long been a strong predictor of a long, happy, healthy life.
I’m also mid-way through Dan Rather’s insightful What Unites Us. He devotes an entire chapter to empathy. He posits that as the middle-class shrinks and more of us live in either a state of privilege or closer to the poverty line, our tendency toward empathetic gestures such as donating time and funds, reaching out to elderly neighbours and even just offering simple acts of kindness are less common. Rather believes that since most of us who are under the age of 75 have not actively lived through wars or the great depression, fewer of us know what it means to wonder where your next meal will come from.
I’ve been reflecting on my own life and the opportunities I have to show empathy to others. I’m fortunate to have a vocation that allows me to help others on a daily basis but I’m sure I can do more and the opportunities are all around us; we just need to be open to them.