It is with disbelief at how fast time went by and much reflection about the semester that I write this blog post.
After weeks of being both intentionally and unintentionally witnessing aspects of Middlebury, I have come to realize a few things about the human capacity of empathy as well as about feelings in general. I have compiled them into a list.
- People are afraid of burdening other people with their problems. They are afraid of inducing an unwanted empathy in their peers for fear of redistributing the heavy weight of personal emotional problems. However, these intensely empathetic conversations are the very ones that create strong interpersonal relationships.
- Reassuring touches on the shoulder go a long way. People I know who initiate casual physical touches in this way spread a feeling of warmth and comfort- physicality is a very tangible and effective form of relaying empathy.
- Unwavering eye contact is the best form of active and empathetic listening. People don’t do it enough, and they are always pleasantly surprised when you are very engaged in conversations.
- Smiling never hurt anybody.
These are some of the tangible observations I have made about manifestations of empathy this semester. I think it is important to think about not just feeling empathy, but a way to make the empathy active and productive.
I think that many, many people on this campus are quietly struggling with mental health. Therefore, I think there are numerous people who could empathize with each other, but these conversations are not being initiated. There is a fear of becoming vulnerable and a fear of exposing internal battles. However, this fear is impeding the potential for these wonderfully intimate personal relationships as I listed as #1. If we could break down these walls, by doing even little things like making more engaged eye contact or giving more meaningful touches in passing, this community could become a much more actively empathetic and supportive place.
I have discovered my new favorite form of empathy: beautifully written quotes. Often, it is hard to put words to feelings. Conveniently, this is exactly what famous authors specialize in. I love finding a line of poetry or an excerpt from a book that perfectly articulates the support or emotion that I would want to convey but cannot find the words myself. Authors are incredibly emotionally intelligent. It is both relieving and awe-inducing to realize, by reading these excerpts, that there are people existing in other places and at other times who felt the same things I am feeling today. That is the most tangible form of empathy I have encountered.
My observations of how empathy operates in humanity are only beginning. I think that these observations are the kind that grow and evolve throughout life. I have come to the conclusion that empathy is the means to a meaningful life. Life is short, life is hard, life is full of curveballs. The most grounding thing you can do for yourself, and for others, is realize that there are other people feeling the same feelings that you are. Feelings are the level at which every human can connect- and that is something that is incredibly valuable.