Empathizing with ME
One of the things that has really stood out to me as I’ve been on my journey to becoming a published author is how people react to the news that I’m writing a book and the questions they ask about it.
Writing a book is something which most people I know have never done, never seriously considered and never believed themselves capable of.
In fact, authors are still held in some kind of mystical awe by many people – and those people in particular have no idea how to empathize with the feelings and emotions that come along with being published.
Holding your book in your hands for the first time, for example, is a feeling that is very hard to explain and people who have never done it ask me time and time again, “How does it feel? It must be amazing!”
The problem is, what I’m doing and the feelings that go along with it are so far out of most people’s realm of experience, that they simply have no idea what it’s like and have nothing they can even compare it with.
Deployments are HARD
This lack of ability to empathize came home to me last week when a friend returned from an eight month deployment on an aircraft carrier with the US Navy.
My family and I had the privilege of going to the Naval base to watch Commander Tommy “Gimp” Locke and his squadron fly in and land, having been away since last October.
I said goodbye to him the day before he left and the time seemed to have flown by. I couldn’t believe it when his wife told us that the ship was on its way home already!
When we saw the families running to meet the returning pilots though, I was struck with how I really have no concept whatsoever of how it feels to be a part of a military family.
Deployments are HARD. Hard on the kids, hard on the spouses, hard on the parents and hard on the people being deployed. Eight months away is a long, long time and it’s not something I have ever experienced.
In fact, I think the longest I’ve been away from my wife and kids is two weeks – which doesn’t even compare (especially since they didn’t go away into a war zone!)
What Can I Do?
So the question came to me, what can I do to empathize?
What can I do to fill this lack of empathy that I have for all the military families living around us?
- I could go away for eight months, but that’s fairly pointless and wouldn’t be the same anyway.
- I could enlist in the military, but that wouldn’t be empathy, that would be joining them.
So the answer has to be that I need to listen, I need to observe, I need to engage and I need to learn.
I can’t empathize unless I really put the time and effort in to hearing and seeing what life is like for a military family.
I can’t empathize unless I become a more integral part of their lives and experience the struggles and pains they go through.
I can’t empathize unless I’m willing to not walk a mile in their shoes, but to walk a hundred miles right next to them.
I just happen to be picking military families and deployments because it is relevant to me here and now, but the principle is the same whatever the situation.
If you want to empathize, you HAVE to engage closely with the person you are trying to empathize with.
So I have decided that next time a family we know has a member who is deploying that I’m going to ask my family if we can ‘adopt’ that family and for the length of the deployment and however long afterward is needed, to treat that family as if they are part of our family, and as if it’s one of US who has gone away.
We’ll walk the path with them and be there when the deployment is dragging on and on. We’ll stand shoulder to shoulder with them and see it through to the end.
It won’t be exactly the same for us, but it will be the closest we can get and we’ll do all we can to help.
I guess that’s what God was talking about when he said to “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
If they are going through something, you go through it with them and help them find their way safely to the other side.
Q: What do YOU think we can do to help with a lack of empathy… and if you’re a military family, what can we civilians do to help YOU?