EmpathyI don’t understand you and you probably don’t understand me. But we can try. If I am only to care about those who are just like me that isn’t anything more than loving myself…that the closer you are to who I am the easier it is I find myself loving you. The true challenge is in loving someone who is different enough from myself to test whether or not what I am feeling and deciding truly is love.

Jesus said this in Matthew 5,

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

If I could amend this a bit, I would add to verse 46 “For if you love only those who are exact duplicates of yourself, what kind of love is that?”

We are different…we will never be entirely the same and yet our differences don’t need to exclude us from loving each other and even in finding unity. If unity is to be found. Our differences don’t require us to be unloving. Those differences might just be exactly what we need in order to learn what it means to truly be human…to learn and love someone who is not an exact duplicate of myself.

Our world needs empathy and empathy presupposed differences. If we have no differences then empathy would not be necessary. We need to go the extra mile in trying to understand each other. I am afraid social media has conditioned many of us to use gut level, lightning fast reactions rather than consider, well thought out considerations of the other person.

I wish I could say as Christians we were masters at empathy. Jesus modeled it for us in taking on flesh and experiencing every temptation we experience. We should do the same for others.

One caveat. Unhealthy empathy is where empathy destroys our ability to self-differentiate. Unhealthy empathy is enmeshment. This is where I go beyond understanding and enmesh my identity and feelings into what I see in you. I believe we can be empathetic and self-differentiated. In doing so we come to understand self and other in more accurate and helpful terms.

So let us learn from each other. Let us listen in on perspectives that are not our own. Let us learn to love people in spite of the fact they are not clones of ourselves. In doing so, I believe we will draw closer to the heart of God and what it means to be truly human.