We’re called to share in the suffering of our brothers and sisters. In Romans 12:15, Paul tells us, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.” We’re also called to compassion. As 1 Peter 3:8 says, “All of you be of one mind, having compassion for one another; love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous.” And we’re called to comfort each other. We learn to comfort each other from God “who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (2 Cor. 2:4).
Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another. (Romans 12:15–16a)
Empathy is the key that can unlock the door to our kindness and compassion.
As I was scrolling through my social media feed, I came across a post that broke my heart. A woman had just found out the baby she was carrying had died. I was filled with grief for this sister in Christ and for her family. Why did I feel such pain for a woman I’ve never even met? Even though we’re not friends or family, I can relate to what she’s going through because of my own experiences. I can empathize with her because I know what it’s like to lose a baby.
What is empathy? The word was introduced in the early 1900s as a translation for the German word Einfühlung. Empathy is a combination of two Greek words, “em” and “pathos,” which together mean “in feeling.” Empathy is “a person’s ability to recognize and share the emotions of another person, fictional character, or sentient being. It involves, first, seeing someone else’s situation from his perspective, and, second, sharing his emotions, including, if any, his distress.”
The meaning of empathy and how it’s used has shifted some over the years, and not everyone agrees on a universal definition:
The social psychologist C. Daniel Batson, who has researched empathy for decades, argues that the term can now refer to eight different concepts: knowing another’s thoughts and feelings; imagining another’s thoughts and feelings; adopting the posture of another; actually feeling as another does; imagining how one would feel or think in another’s place; feeling distress at another’s suffering; feeling for another’s suffering, sometimes called pity or compassion; and projecting oneself into another’s situation.