Empathy is Our Superpower!

I’m struggling.

I posted that the other day to Facebook and a bunch of friends reached out, commented and said, “You can do it!”

Struggle is always a writing thing, and goes without saying, but I’m struggling with understanding something else (which I’ll get to a bit later in this post). I’m working on the new WIP (Work-in-progress) which, as a story, is a difficult one to tell. It is about a character’s personal struggle. As I’m writing, I’ve been thinking a lot about the idea of personal strife.

Each of us faces the symbolic mountain. (FYI: this is literally the Ko’olaus on the the island of O’ahu).

Each of us faces the symbolic mountain. (FYI: this is literally the Ko’olaus on the the island of O’ahu).

The struggle for me as an author is often in the bond I create with the characters as I learn who they are. The character comes to life, becomes a real face, with a real history and their experiences often opens my eyes to the authentic world where my own perspective is challenged and shaped. When I’m in the darkness with a character for an extended period, I live the struggle with them, but I push through it because I can feel the necessity to tell the story in every beat of my heart.  

Struggle is a human experience, one that we all of share in a myriad of ways. It is a common language.

But then again, maybe not.

Without over politicizing it (I’m trying to focus on the humanity) when one of the most impactful world leaders - while at a political rally - mocked the experience of a woman who shared her troubling experience drew me into a dark place. When I was able to set my feet back on rational soil, I wondered if he’s ever had to struggle? Are there people on this earth who have never experienced the pain, the adversity, the difficulty of floating in the pool of trials and having to climb out of it? Has he ever grappled with abuse, inequality, grief, rape, racism, mental illness, addiction, physical disabilities or a myriad of other ways that humans face mountains? How could he not, after all; the struggle doesn’t differentiated does it? And he’s human. Right? Then again, this isn’t the first time the man - or others in varying positions of power - have trivialized trauma or attempted to flip the script to marginalize groups, dehumanize their experience, or categorize behaviors to negate their import.

Then I realized: it’s about EMPATHY.

My daughter and her best friend as they say goodbye to one another as they head off to college.

My daughter and her best friend as they say goodbye to one another as they head off to college.

Empathy is the means with which we identify with those who struggle. It is the grace we show our fellow human beings, and that which makes us act in service to one another. It is the way we connect.

Ultimately, we tell stories because we seek connection. Happy stories, sad stories, hardship stories that overcome odds, love stories. When my father died, others told me their stories of losing their loved one as a way to empathize with my experience. I’m a sucker for the sports vignette when watching College GameDay or E:60 where I’m often moved to tears because the stories showcase struggle and the empathy attached by others. It is our nature to seek connection, and it is in the struggle where that often takes place.  

I wish I had an answer for those who lack the empathy needed to understand the struggle others face. Politically, we can answer that at the polls, but in everyday life, those of us who can, I suppose, need to continue to serve, to provide grace, and to connect. Whether that’s through telling stories, delivering sandwiches, working at a soup kitchen, volunteering at church, offering a hot meal, spending time with the elderly, volunteering for a campaign - it is our empathy that is our superpower.

So I will continue to struggle to tell this WIP’s Character’s story, even if it is difficult, and climb the mountain with him.