Living Empathetically

“Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets.” (‭‭Matthew‬ ‭7‬:‭12‬ ‭NLT‬‬)

All of us are innately selfish people from the moment we take in our first lungful of air. Every parent of an infant knows in their very sleep-deprived bones that newborn babies are among the most selfish creatures in our world. Their existence consists solely of eating, sleeping, and pooping – all activities that are focused on fulfilling their own bodily needs – with the occasional moment or two to explore their world. Yet even that exploration starts out as self-focused; since their eyes are still developing, much of the early exploration of newborns consists of learning about their own body: how to move their limbs, what their fingers taste like, the best way to kick off their socks, etc.

God designed them this way specifically because they are unable to care for themselves. Their selfish cries are literally cries for attention because they have no other way of having their needs met. It is only once they reach roughly two years of age that children begin to gain a sense of empathy, this widening of a person’s worldview beyond the 1.4 kilograms of grey matter each of us carry around. However, they don’t truly begin to understand what empathy truly means until they are eight or nine. Even then, their sense of empathy is most likely understood through the lens of fairness rather than truly grasping the emotional weight of another person’s experience.

Unfortunately, many of us still struggle with living empathetically. It could be we never learned how to be empathetic in the first place, or maybe we learned that with empathy often comes pain that is better left avoided all together, so we have sadly reverted to a more selfish condition to protect our fragile hearts. With this one, simple instruction in Matthew 7:12, Jesus teaches us how to open up our hearts to others and show love and kindness to those around us.

Truly if there is any verse in all of Scripture that summarizes what it means to be kind, it is this one.

What would it look like if every follower of Jesus chose to consider this command of Christ before we acted or spoke? At the very least, making deliberate steps to build empathy into our lives will also have the blessed side effect of creating space for the Holy Spirit to manifest kindness in our hearts, and as a result in our words and deeds.