They say make new friends but keep the old one is silver and the other gold.
What a great analogy for sympathy and empathy as well. Empathy is the gold standard of understanding someone else’s feelings. If you haven’t been there, you simply don’t get it to the same degree. You feel sympathy, but like a new friend this is perhaps silver.
Maybe this is one reason older people are so lovely. They have lived so long and done so much; there’s a good chance they have been there, done that and can empathise when you’re hurting. They can throw their arms around us, and we KNOW they get it.
This is one of the hidden benefits to suffering, which even as I write it seems odd to say. However, the more we understand our fellow human beings, the better person we become.
My first obvious experience with this was after I had my son. I came home from the hospital, and suddenly had problems breathing. The first reaction was that perhaps it was post-natal depression, but nothing else felt wrong. We raced back to the hospital, stayed the night and I seemed fine. We all wrote it off to exhaustion from too many visitors or something. Off we go back home., and it starts again. On the drive home I felt very lightheaded and funny, and the rest of the world seemed to be in slow motion. It was the most bizarre feeling and I remember thinking maybe I was losing it somehow.
I felt removed from society, like I was an onlooker. It was a terrible feeling.
Turns out I had developed allergenic asthma, which was triggered by the anaesthetic I had been given in hospital. When I was feeding my baby, I sat by an open window with an Australian paper bark tree directly outside, which we learned triggered it.
When I had another episode, I went to my local doctor, who pinpointed the problem and quickly threw a nebuliser on me. I could suddenly breathe!
But the point of the story was that feeling. That feeling of not being ok on that drive home.
I felt an instant empathy for those people who aren’t stable, and maybe feel kind of ‘outside’ their bodies or society through mental illness. It was a brief moment, but I will never forget it.
The other thing that comes with having a baby of course is your newfound empathy to every single other parent on the globe. A notion impossible to comprehend beforehand.
That silver lining to losing something is the same. You now get it. You comprehend loss, grasp what it feels like, and bond with another huge part of the population.
Great right? Of course, you’d rather it not happened, but it did.
You are honing your empathy skills, and ultimately becoming a more emotionally intelligent person. This is huge.
Like resilience which can only be learned through overcoming difficult experiences, empathy is the same. And isn’t this a wonderful thing to have in your character? I used to laugh when people would say something negative that happened ‘built character’. I would think ‘I have enough character thanks! But it’s true.
We have to find the sometimes-hidden benefits to the things that happen to us in life.
Resilience, courage and empathy are all admirable traits to hone or acquire.
So, whilst a time of loss and suffering is truly awful, the good news is you are honestly growing in unseen ways which will be with you forever.