I want to share a paper my 16-year-old daughter Sierra wrote. I think this story describes exactly what the world needs more of and it happens one heart at a time.
“My Mother is the most outstanding person I have ever met and by example she has taught me how to be of service to society. Many people show a lack of empathy toward others, only looking out for themselves. Feeling empathy for others is something people must not disregard. Empathy is something my Mother taught me from a young age and it helps guide my life.
As a child, empathy isn’t always thoroughly understood, but my Mother always made sure to put things into perspective to help me understand. When I was in 1st grade, birthday parties were extravagant social events. The excitement of getting an invitation decorated with printed balloons and confetti in the mail or on your desk was such an honor. I would pace the aisles of Target searching for the perfect gift, something when unwrapped would be the best of all the presents. In contrast, I remember the feeling in my stomach when I came to school on Monday and I would hear girls giggle and tell stories of the party last weekend. The party I never received an invitation to.
It was an ordinary day in Mrs. Newman’s 1st grade class, until something peculiar happened. A boy in my class, who smelled funny, was on the chubby side, and always had an extra teacher by his side, passed out ripped off sheets of lined paper with the details of his birthday party. He hand-wrote the invitations himself for the entire class. I could hear the girls giggling about whether they were going to go, followed by an exaggerated, “NO WAY!”. When I was asked, I responded the same. What if I was never invited to a birthday party again? I quickly shoved the paper into my backpack.
When I arrived home my Mother looked through my bag to see my work, as she always did, and found the invitation. She reacted as if she didn’t notice the difference from the other invitations I received in the past. I told her I wasn’t going and the obvious reason why. She went on to tell me I had to go. I whined and cried. How could she do this to me? After I calmed down, she left me with a question that ultimately convinced me to go. She said, “What if you invited the entire class to your party and no one showed up, how would you feel?” Immediately I thought of the embarrassment I would feel.
This is the first memory I have of my Mother demonstrating empathy. It is something I feel quite often now; for the Syrian refugees, the homeless, the stray dog on the street, the old man who lost his leg in war. It is something I can carry with me for the rest of my life and I owe my thanks to my Mother for always putting things into perspective for me, and for that I am forever grateful.”
I love this story. You may be thinking the first sentence is my favorite part? I was very touched to read her sentiment but frankly, I almost took that part out since I am afraid I do not live up to the compliment.
What I love the most is the insight Sierra has about the recognition of the pain someone else might feel, followed by the realization she had the ability to protect this person from the pain. That’s it. That’s what we need more of. People have a choice to use their suffering to relieve pain or inflict it. Sierra used her pain of not being invited to ease someone else from the same fate. Empathy leads to compassion, and compassion leads to action to reduce the suffering in the world. One person, one heart, one birthday party at a time. We should never underestimate the power of an act of kindness derived from a place of genuine empathy. This story gives me hope. This caring heart is what I see in so many young people. Thank you, Sierra, for telling it so well.
Can you reflect on a time when your empathy guided you to action?