A Little Mind on Empathy

 

kinfolk

 

I’m going to keep this brief, partially because I think there is value in brevity, and partially because the message I want to share is just short.

I’ve been having a rather metaphysical, existential week, considering what it means to be human, alive, free, etc. These are weeks that I have fairly frequently, but usually leave me more confused than ever.  I began the week, going through a thought that has plagued, amazing, and inspired me for such a long time. It goes something like this: We all feel like selves, distinct creatures wandering around in space. But what if the space we occupy is really more of a fluid? Atomically speaking, this makes more sense anyway- there is no emptiness, there are just patches of more and less dense stuff. Imagine the world, the galaxy, the universe is just a big ocean of stuff, all part of a fluid that flows and changes.

In this fluid, everything is always in contact with the things surrounding it. Physically, we are never distinct from our environment; as our feet touch the ground and our skin touches the air, we are connected to those things. On an atomic level, my feet are really no different from my socks or my shoes or the ground below them, and though we are not bonded we are nonetheless just a bunch of atoms all pushed up against each other. So what makes me distinct from my environment? Why am I not the ground and the air that touches me?

Because I cannot feel the air. I cannot feel the ground. The only sensations that I can feel are those of my own body, mind, and spirit.

Or am I? What happens when I feel the emotions of others, when I am so connected with their joy or strife that it becomes a part of me? What happens when tears come to my eyes as I watch someone mourn the death of a loved one? What happens when I cringe, physically experiencing pain, as I watch another hit their thumb with a hammer?

This is called empathy, and I believe it is the end of the self. It is the spiritual blurring of the distinction between you and me, between us all. So though we may not be the atoms of air around us, our ‘spiritual atoms,’ so to speak, are more fluid, interchanging, and self-less than we may think.

Remember, then, that the lines we draw between our own souls and those of others may be crossed, or sometimes disappear altogether.

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