Sympathy or Empathy?

Yesterday I read the book, The Help. This book tells the story of women’s lives in Missippi during the very beginnings of the Civil Rights Movement of the 60’s. The story is told through the eyes of two black women working as maids and one white woman who was raised by a black maid and whose friends all employ black maids. 

Growing up in rural Northern California the civil rights struggle was something we saw on TV, but didn’t experience first hand. Reading this book made me feel that I was able to understand and empathize with the people who had been hurt by the horrible Jim Crow segregation laws and attitudes of that era.

At the end of the book the author wrote an afterward telling about her own growing up in Mississippi during that time. She is a white woman and expressed her trepidation at writing in the first person for the two black maids in her story.

What she said made me see how impossible it is for any of us to completely empathize with another. Every person’s life is unique, whether our experiences are good or bad. I think it is important to recognize that, both when trying to understand another person’s sensitivities and when we are the wounded person. 

I can’t expect anyone to fully understand my struggles, so I need to be forgiving when someone inadvertently makes things worse while trying to empathize with me.

Perhaps we wouldn’t need to walk on the eggshells of political correctness if we would all agree to stop demanding complete empathy and begin to appreciate the sympathetic gestures, instead.

Jesus is the only one who can fully empathize with any one. While we can aspire to emulate him, we cannot hold others to his supernatural standard of compassion.

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About Jonna Hawker Turek

I write Christian fiction under my maiden name, J.B. Hawker.
This entry was posted in faith walk, Personal Musings, Spirituality, Women's Ministry. Bookmark the permalink.

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