These days it’s hard to know if someone is applying hand sanitizer or wringing their hands over all that’s happening in the world! We are still suffering in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. Many people are hurting financially, in part due to the pandemic. The issue of social justice has reached a boiling point in our country. And to top it all off, we are heading down the stretch of a contentious presidential election campaign that has highlighted just how divided our nation is politically.
Besides all of these concerns, people still have to deal with the problems that are inherently part of the human condition. Everyone has their own particular struggle with an issue relating to work, family, health or some other important area of life. All that many people are looking for is a little empathy—someone to talk with to share the burden, if only for a little while.
However, it seems like empathy is in short supply these days. It is a precious commodity, harder to find than toilet paper was just a few months ago!
Someone wrote to Dear Abby a few days ago with some suggestions about how we could be more empathetic. Briefly, here are some things we should understand about showing empathy.
First, we need to understand that we are not in a contest. We should not be trying to outdo the person who is sharing a problem with us. How quickly we point out that: we were out of a job for so many months also, that our aunt had that same physical problem, our boss is much meaner than theirs, our family is much more dysfunctional than theirs, and so on and so forth. Once again, it’s not a contest! We can’t make someone feel better by topping their woes with the problems that we or our loved ones have experienced. As tempting as it is, don’t go down that road! Even if you do have a similar sob story to relate, that is not what the person wants to hear from you.
Second, don’t try to solve the problem for them. No doubt they have many people lined up to give them advice that they didn’t ask for! They don’t need your solutions added to the pile! Of course, if they ask for your wisdom in dealing with their current circumstances, by all means feel free to share. But too often our unsolicited advice does nothing to alleviate their woes. In fact, it actually adds to them!
Finally, just listen. That’s usually all people want, a sympathetic ear. In the Old Testament, Job’s friends had a chance to comfort him in the midst of his legendary troubles. Then they ruined the opportunity by feeling like they had to say something! Good listeners are a rare breed, but they sure are appreciated in times of trouble. Proverbs 18:13 says, “To answer before listening—that is folly and shame.” Let’s make sure that we lend an ear to those who are seeking some empathy. It seems like the least we can do.