Empathy is defined as the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. It is the hallmark of every exceptional teacher to understand and share the feelings of students, remembering what it’s like to be in their shoes, being able to discern factors of student life beyond “school.” For any adult, empathy is remembering what it is like to be a child. In good times and bad. For the writer, empathy is invaluable to character development … and for taking a walk in the shoes of anything and everything, real or unreal, alive or not. Empathy is more than taking on the guise of another; it is the ability to be the other in a given situation. It is a transformative force, one of humanity’s greatest facets, vital to our coexistence.
But not solely a human attribute.
Since his cardiac arrest and heart surgeries last year my husband has battled a new thing. His blood pressure is typically high and it’s been a challenge for his doctors to get his prescription cocktail just right. His pressure is currently well-managed, to the point of being a little low; occasionally when he rises from a sitting position he becomes light-headed. This is something for which I have much empathy, my own blood pressure being characteristically low. It’s called orthostatic or postural hypotension. Once, as a teenager, I got up from the living room floor where I was sprawled in front of the television to answer a knock on the front door—thankfully the neighbor caught me as my knees buckled and the tingling world went solid gray.
So the other evening when my husband got up from his chair just to grab the kitchen counter, muttering, “I’m dizzy,” I knew exactly what it was like.
“Sit down! Now!” I told him.
He did. He leaned over in the floor and rested his head on his arms.
That’s when Dennis, our 6-month-old dachshund, rushed over, considered the situation, and promptly keeled over in the floor beside my husband.
“That,” I laughed, “is about the most empathetic thing I’ve ever seen.”
And once his light-headedness was past I made my husband restage it so I could take pictures.
Poor sweet hilarious Dennis.
I can’t say for sure how much he understood, but he certainly shared the experience of another. Took a bit of the suffering on. Kind of like If you’re going through this, then I am, too.
If only our species could be as consistently perceptive, responsive, and willing.