I was thirteen. I knew as much as any other thirteen year old boy which was almost nothing. We were crossing the football practice field on the way to my house.  My friend Jon was recently broke up with his girlfriend.  “What am I going to do now?”, he said. The breakup was not his idea.  He had been sullen and quiet all day. “I was really starting to like her a whole lot!  Do you think I should call her again in about a week?”   I started to say “Yea” but I didn’t really know and in fact I actually didn’t really care.   I didn’t really know what to say so I punted and said, “Gee, I don’t know.” I didn’t know anything way back then. Jon clammed up again.

We finally get to my house and sit down at the kitchen table. My mother comes in, says ‘Hi”,  and proceeds to take care of the dishes she had washed earlier. I’m talking to Jon and he really isn’t responding. My mother senses that something is wrong and asks Jon point-blank  if he’s OK. He blurts out that “Nancy and I broke up with each other.   She wants to see other guys.”   My mother just looks at him and then she says, “Really, did you want to talk about it?” He says “Yea.”  She sits down and him and her start talking.  He starts talking about Nancy.

I just sat there.  My hands propping up my head, my eyes going back and forth with their words.   I didn’t really want to do this.  I didn’t even know it but I was afraid to “go there.”

At this point an amazing thing happened.  I started to see. I listened and saw that my best friend, Jon, actually had very strong feelings for Nancy.  I saw that my Mom knew how to talk to him and how to listen to him.  I saw my friend and I saw my Mom in a totally different light. They talked for about 40 minutes.  For sure my Mom had talked to me like that before but she was my Mom, that’s what Mom’s do.  I didn’t know she could talk that way with others or that it was even acceptable. 

 My Mom saw a need that wasn’t food, wasn’t warmth, and wasn’t security.   She saw that my friend needed some solace, he needed a balm.  Her words weren’t magic, in fact I can’t remember one sentence that stands out from my memory.  She somehow managed to find out how he was feeling. More importantly she allowed him to vent his feelings and to validate them. She listened to HIM.  She affirmed that many people have had the same feelings. She shared some of her own experiences and knowledge of boyfriend/girlfriend stories.

He still didn’t feel great, but I could tell that what my Mom had said, had made an impact on him.  Finally he turned to me and said “lets go back to my house.” We left and made our way across the practice field.  Jon turned to me about halfway across and said without judgement that “the way your Mom let me talk and explain myself was the way I wanted you to talk with me.”  At the time I fumbled some sort a of an apology.  Inside I knew he that was right. What good are your friends if they can’t lift you up or support you?   But for me at that young an age, I didn’t even know what the word was for what had happened.  Later I learned the word was Empathy. The word means “the intellectual identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another(Dictionary.com).”

My Mom showed me.

My friend told me.

The great gift of human beings is that we have the power of empathy.
                                                              -Meryl Streep

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24 Responses to “Empathy(101)”

  1. Professor Taboo Says:

    Seems a lot of women/mothers have an innate ability to empathize; like it’s easy as 1-2-3. Hats off to your Mom, but slap-on-the-hand for YOU informationforager! 😉 Seriously, we are all capable of learning the art of empathizing; for me, I think it took close to 25 years. Lol. Great post & thanks for sharing this experience!

  2. informationforager Says:

    Thanks for the comment. It’s taken me a long time to learn. Even after Mom & Jon showed me I don’t think that I would have been able to use it right then. It’s probably something that should be taught in schools. But I also think that Meditation should be taught in schools.

    The thing about my Mom and that experience also is the whenever my Mom gave me Solace, she was telling me she loved me and cared for me. The fact that she reached out to Jon showed me how great and special my Mom really was. Love is a verb, and Love is to be given away.

  3. bridgesburning Says:

    Hey! not only is this the best post on empathy I have ever seen and a great example of learning It is written so well that any one of us can understand and learn,
    Thank you!

  4. bridgesburning Says:

    I have posted it in my Facebook!

  5. Silk Says:

    I love this – the way you identified “going there” as a real event – ‘there’ as a real place!

  6. Trinity River Says:

    great insight your friend had. “this is how I want you to talk to me” Not many people at any age can verbalize that.

  7. informationforager Says:

    Thank you Chris. I hadn’t anticpated that but it’s A-OK. It’s not mine, it’s God’s lesson to me and to Jon. Bring it down, pass it around. Peace be with you.

  8. jules Says:

    this is a super post, thank you for sharing about your experience

  9. informationforager Says:

    Thank You for your comment. Peace be with you.

    • informationforager Says:

      Thank you very much. I think that it was something that I had to observe. If someone then or even a little later had said “Today you’re going to learn empathy”, I would have brushed them off as a teenager. Because I saw what a huge impact, mere words, had on Jon I was able to to see, “This is Real. This is Meaningful.” Thanks again.

  10. Bhaga Says:

    What a simple and great story. So, teenage boys too can learn what real friendship is, and how it feels to give it out. ‘An amazing thing happened’, you say. It started with you really listening to your Mom and Jon, that means, really opening to both of them And that did it: then you could see, as you say, what was going on between them and learn from it.
    But there had first to be that change in your own inner attitude.
    So, my congratulations to young Informationforager, who made it all possible! 🙂

  11. souldipper Says:

    What an authentic portrait of youth and all its confusion. Beautiful story – great example to those of us at any age. Empathy is companioning at its best.

  12. informationforager Says:

    Thank you. Isn’t that idea a famous qoute,

    “Youth is wasted on the young.”
    -George Bernard Shaw

    Sometimes I’m confused about “Am I more mature or has my testosterone just waned.” Anyway Thanks for the comment. Peaec be with you.

    • Bhaga Says:

      I’m not quite sure who you were replying to in the above comment (the ‘reply word is almost invisibleunder his person’s name, it took me time also to see it!…); I just want to say that I had to laugh out loud for both the hilarious quote from George Bernard Shaw, and for your own hilarious question about yourself.
      So, thank you very much for this appreciated bit of fun!…

      • Bhaga Says:

        I meant to write ‘invisible under’, and ‘each person’s name’… Apologies for not having taken the time to re-read before posting…

  13. Random Ntrygg Says:

    Before we can have empathy, we have to be concerned with other people in somewhat equal measure to ourselves.

    Part of that is maturity, part of that is having experiences that we want other people to understand of us.

    Then we can turn it around and be understanding and compassionate of others.

  14. informationforager Says:

    Very good points Random, you are so right that until we can see inside ourselves we have a long way to go to see into the heart of another.

  15. kristinasa Says:

    I can really feel empathy coming from you via your words in this text. You have a great mom as well! What an important life expereince 🙂

    • informationforager Says:

      Thank You very much for the kind words I have another Empathy post coming soon I hope. I went to your blog but I am unfamilier with that language. I am thinking for my own blog of getting the post translaed. I think there is a way to do that. Peace be with you.

  16. Pat Cegan Says:

    Beautiful post. I believe that one of the best gifts we can give someone is to just sit and listen to them without judgement or without trying to “fix” the problem. Your mom is a wise woman.

    I wondered if you could help me find a particular Biblical quote that a reader asked me about. I did a search but did not find it and can’t remember where it is. If so, will you drop me a note via email. Thanks! pat

    • Bhaga Says:

      To Pat Cegan: for the second time I am struck and touched by a comment you make, so I just had a look at your blog. So insightful and delightful. Subscribed at once….
      Thanks to informationforager and this wonderful little post of his, for having helped me to discover your blog too!

      • informationforager Says:

        Bhaga, Hey thanks for connecting to Pat. Her posts are excellant. I highly encourage you and others to check out each others posts and blogs. On the right side of my posts are sections of interest for others to pursue. One of those is “Other Spiritual Blogs” that contain some of my favorite Spiritual Blogs from other great writers.

        I also have sections on Best Posts, Wiki Definitions, Spiritual Movies, Spiritual Books, Marriage Manuals,and PDF documents of important spiritual insights, Unfortunately I’ve kind of made a spiritual clearing house of stuff.

        Peace be with you

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