Overcoming our empathy deficit


I recently listened to a presentation by Johnny C. Taylor Jr., the president and CEO of SHRM (the Society for Human Resource Management). Yes, that’s how I roll, and I know you are jealous of my non-stop, exciting lifestyle! He made the statement that we have an empathy deficit. I had to ponder that for a bit.

The more I have thought through this, the more I agree with him. To have empathy is to understand and share the feelings of another person. This is definitely something our culture is lacking right now. Whether the topic is politics, religion, racism, OSU football, or the best pizza in Delaware, we have reached a point in our cultural climate where we no longer care about or share the feelings of another person if they disagree with our opinion.

We are in an empathy deficit, and I think I know why. Atrophy.

A few months ago, I had knee issues and was in much pain just walking. The physical therapist gave me a few simple exercises to stretch the right areas and strengthen the muscles around my knee. Because I had avoided putting weight on my knee for a few months, the muscles had atrophied. One of the exercises I had to do was to sit down and then stand up slowly, using the muscles in my leg. At first, I thought the physical therapist was joking, but then I tried to do it. After three reps, I was exhausted! Something as simple as standing up from a chair had become nearly impossible for me to do. My muscles needed to be stretched and strengthened if I was going to get better. I am happy to report that I was walking without pain within two weeks.

I believe that empathy is a social and emotional muscle we need to exercise or it will become weaker and weaker. We find dozens of passages throughout the New Testament discussing how we deal with “one another.” You can barely get through a chapter of any New Testament book without being challenged to practice empathy with those around you.

“Love one another.” “Serve one another.” “Bear one another’s burdens.” “Forgive one another.” (See Romans 13:35; Galatians 5:13; 1 Peter 4:10; Galatians 6:2; and Colossians 3:13).

These are the physical therapy exercises we need to do if we are going to overcome the atrophy of our empathy. This is how we develop our empathy muscle. This is how we overcome the empathy deficit in our culture. It starts with each one of us doing these small steps daily. The more we do them, the stronger we will get individually and collectively.

We are living in very divisive times. The extremes on both ends of the political spectrum are pushing us to demonize those who differ with us so that we can dismiss them without discerning their wounds or struggles. Once we do this, any form of rhetoric or action becomes an option because we have lost touch with the other person’s humanity. We have forgotten that ultimately, we all have the same goals of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Our atrophied empathy has caused our culture to reach a point where having the same goals no longer unifies us. If our goals do not unify us, nothing will, and community will be lost. This is tragic, but it can be remedied. Start exercising your empathy muscles. Start with those closest to you and work your way out. Ask questions and begin to learn the other person’s story. Let yourself care about the other person regardless of their opinions. Maybe then our common goals can unify us, and we can begin the long journey toward a community with an empathy surplus!


By Rev. Jason Allison

Your Pastor Speaks

Rev. Jason Allison is pastor of spiritual formation at Press Church. For information, go to www.presschurch.tv.

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