We live in a very quickly mutating, societally shifting, culturally challenged world. Many have stated in the press that, without any intention to, they feel they're becoming hardened to things going on around them. I hear the same thing as a professional counselor.
And it's not just large-scale tragedies that fail to evoke the level of feeling for others deemed appropriate. The everyday sufferings of others around them seem to cause them little anxiety. Concern for friends, coworkers and even family members seems to be falling by the wayside.
What's the common root of the problem, and what should be done about it?
Focusing on the wrong things
One person mentioned, "Yeah, I can sympathize … but, like, I really don't empathize with anyone anymore." What's the difference?
Sympathy typically reflects understanding of another person's situation, but viewed through your own eyes. Empathy, on the other hand, is what you feel when you enter the internal world of someone else. Without giving away your own perspective, you experience the other person's emotions, conflicts, worries or aspirations. That kind of connection tends to build healthy relationships, which are an essential part of mental health.
Sadly, we're seeing more and more among young people what professional counselors are calling Empathy Deficit Disorder. EDD develops when people focus too much on acquiring power, status, things or money for themselves at the expense of developing healthy relationships with others.
Nearly every day brings the sad news of people who have derailed their lives in the pursuit of money and recognition and ended up in rehabilitation or incarcerated. Many people I cross paths with in my occupation—therapy patients, college students, business clients—struggle with their own versions of this very thing. They alienate themselves from their own hearts and begin to equate what they have with who they are.
What did Jesus tell us?
In the Bible, Jesus Christ profoundly connects the building of healthy relationships with depositing treasure in the spiritual realm: "Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" (Matthew 6:19-21). Our "treasures" speak loudly of who and what we are.
We live in a world where true empathy is quickly being lost. It's almost an art form that someday will disappear. However, that need not be. Jesus set before us the two great commandments: first to love God and secondly to love our neighbor as ourselves (see Matthew 22:36-40)—and that's where empathy comes into play.
Thinking vertically, upward towards our Creator, helps us understand the deeper meaning of what He intended for everyone. He considers empathy a critical attribute in our relationship with Him and with all those He's created.
Chart an empathetic course
Societal trends need not always be followed, and cultural shifts need not always be accepted. You don't have to not care about others.
Empathy is a positive trait necessary for a healthy mental outlook and function. Truly becoming interested in others, sharing their lives and walking with them will produce "treasures" in your life that will last forever. Neither moth nor rust can corrupt empathy!