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If the World Could Only Have One

Empathy and kindness are vastly different. Empathy provides the ability to see humanity in others and to then go one step further.

The word empathy gets thrown around a lot, so much so that its novelty as a word has become somewhat diminished. And let’s not forget its other cousins like empath and empathetic.

According to Merriam-Webster, empathy is “the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another.” A pretty simple definition and yet people continue to equate empathy with kindness.

Kindness says I hope you feel better. Empathy sits next to you, without expectation, and provides comfort without uttering a word.

Kindness says let me know if you need anything. Empathy says I am bringing a meal on Monday at 6:00, stay in your pajamas, and we only have to talk if you want to.

Kindness says that must be so hard. Empathy says words will never be sufficient, but I will be with you until you can face the dawn.

Kindness accepts a person acting differently. Empathy swims to the depths to bring them back.

Kindness is fleeting. Empathy is lasting.

Kindness is well-intentioned. Empathy epitomizes love.

I will let you in on a little secret. Those that exemplify empathy have been forged with fire. They may seem well put together, stoic even. But in the silent moments, when their guard comes down, a trail of scars adorn the length of their being. Blending into one another and yet jagged, with crevices and keloids. Stories of a life that has known despair, suffering, and anguish. And yet has also found a way back to love and joy, even if the journey was treacherous.

Those people, those phoenixes, are the ones who live amongst us silently and yet when we are at our lowest, they reach us when no one else can.

To have empathy comes at an incredible cost, a lasting cost that can never be undone. A cost so steep that no one would ever choose it. But those scars, the everlasting reminders of perseverance and resilience, of not succumbing to base instincts, they have meaning and purpose.

And that purpose is the ability to see our fellow man as he or she is. A person with struggles and value, who is just trying to make their way in a life of changing tides, shifting winds, and unpredictable weather. In other words, their humanity.

Seeing the humanity in everyone around you changes your view, how you communicate, and ultimately places you onto a higher level of being. But if we are being honest, seeing humanity in others is not about changing ourselves. It is about reaching others.

Empathy is the selfless act of reaching into the fire to save another, because only one who has known the blistering burns will go back again and again until their last breath.

The world could always use more kindness and empathy. But if it could only have one, may empathy rule the day.

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