Empathy is the ability to see, understand and love from deep within another’s soul. In its highest forms, it does more than respond to the needs of another. It anticipates them. It does not ask, “What can I do for you?” Rather, it knows what to do and acts without asking. And when it acts, it exposes the hand of God because it delivers ill-equipped humans to the threshold of omniscience. It transforms what would otherwise be well-intended but misguided acts of kindness into miraculous revelations of God’s love that hit the mark so distinctly that the recipient feels loved and known. If charity is the heart of God, then empathy is the mind of God. Empathy is charity’s compass.
If charity is the heart of God, then empathy is the mind of God.
Unfortunately, most people aren’t good at delivering love to others because they lack empathy. I was reminded of this recently as I was listening to a woman with a paralyzed stomach (gastroparesis), who could not eat, tell me of how hurtful it was to have friends and neighbors in her church community bring her cookies, treats and goodies to cheer her up. I experienced this, as well, when I was on a feeding tube. People tend to deliver what they think is love in ways that they, the deliverer, would feel it. They also tend to deliver love in ways that are convenient and comfortable for themselves. This is not love. I consider the adage “it’s the thought that counts” a soothing balm for the thoughtless that has probably done more damage to living the true gospel taught by Jesus than many other convenient aphorisms. It’s false doctrine. Don’t believe it. The minute you find yourself saying that to excuse your misdelivery of love, repent and vow to do better next time. Vow to show more empathy.
Delivering love is a skill.
Delivering love is a skill. It doesn’t necessarily come naturally. But, like any other skill, it can be learned, practiced and mastered. You must be committed to practicing because delivering love is the ultimate imperative. “For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'” (Galatians 5:14.)
There is a deeper meaning to the golden rule, which I now call “the platinum rule.” The proper interpretation of the golden rule is not “do unto others as you would have done unto you.” It’s “do unto others as they would have done unto them.” What is it that “ye would [have] men … do to you?” To treat you the way you want to be treated. Jesus understood and taught this simple truth. Give people what they want:
Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone?
Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent?
If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?
If your son asks for bread, don’t give him a rock. If he needs fish, don’t give him a snake. It all seems so simple. But the reason I call this the “platinum rule” is because it takes a higher investment in others to live it. You have to know people well enough to understand what they want and need. You have to understand them. Love takes empathy.
You cannot truly love someone unless you somehow become them and experience their life vicariously.
The whole condescension of God illustrates this. It teaches that you cannot truly love someone unless you somehow become them and experience their life vicariously and then love them the way they want to be loved. We can do this through thoughtful focus, using our imagination, listening, seeking the Holy Ghost, earnestly striving to experience the pain and suffering of others, learning how to be more perceptive and many other gifts and talents that we can practice and develop. I call this practicing at-one-ment. It is way of learning to identify with others.
Jesus Christ’s love for us is so perfect and complete because, in a literal and figurative sense, he “became us.” (Hebrews 7:26.) In fact, “in all things it behooved him to be made like unto” us so “that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people. For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succour them that are tempted.” (Hebrews 2:17-18.)
If you want to become a disciple of Jesus you must learn and practice empathy. I have written an entire chapter about this in my book Built to Love. There are many excellent resources out there for learning how to develop empathy for others. I would strongly urge you to seek out these and other resources. If you lack the ability to properly empathize you cannot deliver love to others as you ought.