Picture of empathy

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.

20 thoughts on “Picture of empathy

  1. That’s the absolute sweetest thing ever. I know when I am not well, my dog is my constant companion. They are so sensitive and empathetic. I have a bumper sticker that is taped to a cabinet in my laundry room that reads, “Lord, help me be the person my dog thinks I am.”

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    • They are sages, dogs. So full of love and willingness to serve. I have seen that quote and is it ever TRUE! Oh to be worthy of a dog’s heart. They give it so completely and purely. And – Dennis is a daily comedy routine!

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  2. Oh, Dennis! How sweet is that. I love that last line so much: “If only our species could be as consistently perceptive, responsive, and willing.” Beautiful. I pray your husband’s blood pressure meds gets situated well for him.

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  3. Dennis is the exact dog you need right now! I adore the way he showed empathy to your husband.

    I hope your hubby’s docs can get that cocktail right to get him feeling better again. These dizzy spells sound beyond frustrating.

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    • My husband is doing so well, all things considered – definitely staying in and away from public places to be safe from COVID. Dennis really is the exact dog we need, bringing his own brand of daily entertainment!

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    • Dennis is full of lively mischief, loves to be cuddled like a baby. is more curious than any cat ever … He has to be in the middle of everything but we couldn’t have predicted his falling over beside my husband – for real and in the staging. I love that dog!! He adds so much laughter to each day.

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  4. I also love your last line- “If only our species could be as consistently perceptive, responsive, and willing.” This is the second empathy post I read today, and I’m loving the picture you staged and posted. Sending well wishes to you, your husband, and Dennis.

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  5. Hurrah for the furbaby in your life to remind us how connected we can *can* be! My brother and I used to play-fight just to witness how protective our doxies were –not very nice on our part, looking back, but it was reassuring that our four-legged companions would fight for us in a pinch.
    I have quite a few friends with chronic illnesses who swear their animal companions know when something is up, ramping up the cuddles just when they are needed most. Sounds like you’ve got a like-minded pooch.

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  6. Dennis! How utterly sweet. Fran, I think you are one of the most empathetic people out there and your pet has clearly taken on your trait!

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  7. Fran, your intro was lovely but I never thought it would lead to a sweet moment of dog nurturing human shot as you shared. Empathy is “a transformative force” as you said. It leads to a bond of trust, love, and caring as your dog has for your husband. Take care of your husband and yourself.

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