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You Don’t Know My Story! The Fundamentals of Empathy

You_Don't_Know_My_Story_TshirtIt’s become a running joke in our family. Whenever anyone makes a critical remark, a negative judgment of someone we don’t know personally, our 18 year-old son loves to sneer and exclaim (somewhat mockingly, in a way only teenagers can) “You don’t know his story!”

And you know what? Almost always he’s right. We don’t know enough about the person’s background, their challenges, their family of origin issues, the burdens they have to bear.

We don’t really know what kind of “moccasins” they are walking in, let alone have tried walking in them ourselves.

The roots of empathy grow by learning the stories of anyone important in your life, anyone you need to get along with, anyone you have to collaborate with in your work, by choice or otherwise. This includes neighbors, colleagues, people in front of you at the post office.

It brings to mind a couple of useful quotations. The first a paraphrased version originally by Scottish theologian Ian Maclaren (1850 to 1907):

“Be as compassionate as you can be because nearly everyone you meet is involved in some kind of struggle.”

And the second by American botanist George Washington Carver:

“How far you go in life depends on your being compassionate with the young, the aged, the striving, and the weak. Because, someday you will have been all of these things.”

How would you react to someone wearing a t-shirt with “You Don’t Know My Story!” on it? Or what about someone driving a car with the same slogan on a bumper sticker? What if they had just cut you off (possibly) by accident?