Empathy isn’t just something that happens to us—a meteor shower of synapses firing across the brain—it’s also a choice we make: to pay attention, to extend ourselves. It’s made of exertion, that dowdier cousin of impulse. Sometimes we care for another because we know we should, or because it’s asked for, but this doesn’t make our caring hollow. The act of choosing simply means we’ve committed ourselves to a set of behaviors greater than the sum of our individual inclinations: I will listen to his sadness, even when I’m deep in my own. To say “going through the motions”—this isn’t reduction so much as acknowledgment of the effort—the labor, the motions, the dance—of getting inside another person’s state of heart or mind.
This confession of effort chafes against the notion that empathy should always arise unbidden, that genuine means the same thing as unwilled, that intentionality is the enemy of love. But I believe in intention and I believe in work. I believe in waking up in the middle of the night and packing our bags and leaving our worst selves for our better ones.
—Leslie Jamison, The Empathy Exams
(via Learning Everyday…)
This was a very well-timed quote to stumble across in my Feedly. JJ and I had a serious conversation about empathy, specifically about being empathetic towards one another around our sensitivities and the things we choose to engage with or not to engage with, this afternoon. It was a good conversation, resulting from some processing on each of our parts after we had a fairly big fight about small things yesterday. Finding ways to be at odds over something without disrespecting one another’s sensibilities is the intention. #valuesovervisceralreactions