Sunday, May 18, 2008

Empathy--
Since I've become a less orthodox Latter-day Saint I find I get depressed a lot. I feel bad about things. I feel bad about people. I wish I could fix problems better. I wish I could communicate my faith better.

One of the things I realized yesterday is that I feel bad more because I empathize with people more. Before I used to look at the bad things that happened to people, and I thought "if that person were only a member of the church, this wouldn't have happened". "If only that person were more active in the church, this wouldn't have happened." "If only that person followed more correct principles, this wouldn't have happened". I used to look at entire categories of people as sort of broken and unclean and mostly responsible for the bad things that happened to them. I put an emotional distance between myself and them that didn't involve me in their problems.

I don't really do that as much anymore. I don't apply those silly rules as much, and consequently I hurt for people more, regardless of what they might have done to get themselves into trouble. I just feel bad for their problems and wish there was something I could do to make it better. I tend to think of most everybody as kind of a mixed bag, struggling to make their way in this world as best they can, based on the information they have.

That doesn't mean I actually *do* anything most of the time. I just feel bad for them. I identify with them.

I think Jesus was like that. He looked at people, shook his head, and tried to love them anyway.

2 comments:

Tim Malone said...

Hi Christfollower,

I enjoyed your last two posts. I think perhaps it had something to do with the way you pointed out what is really most important - our relationships with other people, and especially our own families. That was wonderful that you could go to the temple with your daughter. Congratulations!

But I think the reason I liked these two posts is because you expressed an understanding of empathy that is rare. The Lord is helping you to focus on some very important principles of the gospel lately. One of those is being able to see and feel how others are affected by this life. That shows a very unselfish characteristic.

I too like Robert Millet precisely for the reason you emphasized. It is best to focus on what Joseph started and not on all the things that happened to him or that he did. We simply don't understand or can't relate because he lived in a different world in a different time. But look at what the Lord did through this imperfect man!

He can do the same with us. All we have to do is accept the things and the people that he places in our path and ask ourselves, "what is the Lord trying to teach me here?" I wouldn't be too discouraged at what happens to others. The Lord is trying to reach them too. He knows the best way to really get their attention. He is patient with them and with us. We should be too.

Former Hometeachoid said...

I can relate. The world's a messy place and thinking about everything that goes on can be depressing.

Religion over the ages has been a convient way to short-circuit the depressing thoughts and say "It's their fault because they don't believe in My God."

I remember learning a few years ago that 1/6th of the world's population suffers from chronic hunger!! That's depressing.

And I can't just ascribe it to "Satan" anymore or some people's rejection of some particular religious figure.

There's a part of me that would like to. Sometimes I envy people that can retreat into their world of magical thinking because that it wraps up things in a nice little box that can be forgotten about.

But what can a person that doesn't have got that defense mechanism anymore do?

I think for me it comes down to connections. Connections help me feel good: connections with myself, with others, and with the world in general.

I connect with myself by taking time to take care of myself. Exercise. Meditation. Spending time in nature. Reading spiritually uplifting things, or listening to music that really resonates with me.

I connect with others by being with those I love.

I connect with the world by learning about it -- staying engaged. This can be politics, or a community group, or reading about the way the world works. Non-fiction helps me do this.

And there's non-fiction book that echoes these same things in a very affirming way, by telling the stories of many, many people who over the last few hundred years have left the world of magical thinking to embrace the world as it is: Karen Armstrong's "A History of God" I highly recommend it. I feel very validated reading about the struggles others have had doing this -- ever since the Elightenment when people first really started to recognize the world for what it was versus for what they were told it was by religious authorities.

I enjoy reading your posts! You could be another chapter in a Karen Armstrong book. :-)