Empathy and Awkwardly Cut Squash

As I stroll around the city, I am constantly surrounded by other people; people walking, people talking, people internally suffering, people eternally wondering. It is hard to not get wrapped up in yourself as you journey through these streets. People easily become obstacles and things to get by; they stop being reactionary persons who smile at you, and they become face-paced objects who push by you to get to a stop-light.  

We are all very busy people, so busy that we do not notice others. The person standing next to me on the street has also suffered loss, profoundly rejoiced, been in love, laughed until their stomach hurt – or they haven’t experienced any of those things. I don’t need to know the specifics of their lives, but I do need to know the objective value of their capabilities in encountering the same world that I am. Every human person has an individual experience – and I can come to know this about them if I choose to. I have to choose them, choose to love them, choose to encounter them. It is important to make ourselves present to those around us. In understanding our own human dignity and experiences, we can then logically deduce that others are capable of experiencing the same. If I recognize that I have these experiences, then I can recognize the other person’s capabilities, and my inherent value is the same as their value

In my small community at WYA where I work and live with the same people, I am reminded that empathy begins with these small tasks. I see constantly how necessary it is to never lose sight of the person and to personally allow yourself to encounter the other. It is easy to intellectually understand the person. Could I explain to you what it means to have human dignity? Absolutely. Could I give you an extensive list of the times where I was able to genuinely communicate and interact with another in light of their human dignity? Not as easily. This is why it is necessary to have the duality of thought and action – through this, we truly understand what it is to love another person. I can articulate this person’s value, but can I always intuit what they need at that exact moment? If I am wrapped up in myself, then I cannot. Empathy is the solution to this, and this empathy is expressed when we do not let prejudices, negativity, or other misordered feelings towards things limit our understanding. This is not to say that every time we encounter someone else that it will necessarily be a transcendental encounter. We pass people every day that we don’t remember – but it is also important to remember to live intentionally and authentically.

For example, WYA recently hosted a Filipino Dinner. As the interns were prepping, I saw the strange way that one of my fellow interns was cutting squash. The result of his dicing method resulted in rather awkwardly diced squash that wound up disintegrating in the soup. But once we all sat down for dinner, I realized how silly the squash really was. We were still sitting around the table, laughing, chatting, eating – full of happiness and tangy food. Though myself and my fellow intern may have different methods of squash slicing, it ultimately would have ended in the same result: a delectable soup, in which the squash was barely detected.

This is not to say that the ends justify the means, but that in meeting someone where they are, and working with them towards the good is an essential foundation to human flourishing. In seeing the reality of another person, we see them as people to be loved and not problems to be solved. We can truly embrace their humanity as well as ours; the human family is not a vacuum of perfected beings, but a continuum of those constantly growing and searching.

There are many current problems in society degrading to the person. Racism, pornography, human trafficking all lose this sight of the human person. We therefore are called to love, whether this is done in the United Nations, with a stranger in a coffee shop, or with an intern incorrectly chopping away at squash: love is not a privilege given to a few, but a gift to all.  

Written by Meagan Robinson, North America 2018 B2 Intern