Sunday, June 5, 2011

Is Empathy Really a Gift?

Is Empathy Really a Gift?

     A lot of people believe Empathy is a gift. I don’t go that far, I just identify with the term in a lot of different ways but the bottom line is that empathy is a natural part of me. I could chalk all this up to semantics but in my experience, people really embody the term empathy. This spiritual actualization deserves a closer look.

What is gift? The free dictionary on Bing says this:
Definitions of gift (n)
gift [ gift ] something given: something that is given to somebody, usually on order to provide pleasure or to show gratitude special talent: a natural ability that somebody appears to have been born with, especially
an artistic ability or social skill
act of giving: the act of giving something to somebody
Synonyms: present, donation, contribution, reward, bequest, award, endowment, grant, offering

    Empathy as a gift is usually seen in the usage of ‘a natural ability that somebody appears to have been born with, especially an artistic ability or social skill’. Everyone is born with empathy to some degree or another, so in a loose sense, empathy is a gift.

    I got to thinking about Empathy as a gift after musing on the book, "A Wrinkle In Time" by Madeleine L’Engle. In chapter 6 ‘The Happy Medium’ the main character and her younger brother and new friend are given gifts. These gifts are necessary for Meg (the main Character) and company to defeat the "It" who has ensorceled Meg’s father.

Below is an excerpt;
"You will need help," Mrs. Whatsit told them, "but all I am allowed to give you is a little talisman. Calvin (The Friend), your great gift is your ability to communicate, to communicate with all kinds of people. So, for you, I will strengthen this gift. Meg, I give you your faults."

"My Faults!" Meg cried.

"Your faults."

"But I’m always trying to get rid of my faults!"

At first glance, these seem like lousy gifts, if they are gifts at all. Calvin already possesses the gift of communication (Empathy anyone?) And Meg clearly has and acknowledges her faults. It is a clever bit of irony, making gifts of gifts but there is a deeper meaning hidden in Meg’s faults.

What is a fault?

Again, the free dictionary defines fault as;
Definitions of fault (n)
fault [ fawlt ] responsibility for mistake: responsibility for a mistake, failure, or act of wrongdoing
personal shortcoming: a failing or character weakness in somebody
defect: something that detracts from the integrity, functioning, or perfection of something  else
Synonyms: responsibility, liability, burden, culpability, accountability

    In the story, Meg’s faults are stubbornness, obstinance and her innate ability to think for herself. Meg’s personality leaves her little room to be anything but herself. In Meg’s teenage world, this is a huge fault and causes her nothing but difficulty in her everyday life. In the unique circumstance of saving her father from an entity known as "It", everyone will depend on Meg’s constant flaws to break away from the indulgent "It".
    The real gift isn’t Meg’s faults but her new found knowledge that her faults, if applied correctly aren’t faults at  all but a huge and necessary gift.
That is what empathy is to me, a sometimes fault that requires us to gain knowledge so we can utilize the gift of empathy effectively.
"Simple Gifts"

written by Elder Joseph

'Tis the gift to be simple, 'tis the gift to be free

'Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,

And when we find ourselves in the place just right,

'Twill be in the valley of love and delight.

When true simplicity is gain'd,

To bow and bend we shan't be asham'd,

To turn, turn will be our delight,

Till by turning, turning we come 'round right
Ecclesiastes 3:11

"He hath made every thing beautiful in its time: also he hath set the world in their heart, yet so that man cannot find out the work that God hath done from the beginning even to the end."

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