“Empathy is full presence to what’s alive in the other person at this moment.” – John Cunningham ……
“Everything happens for a reason” how often have we used this platitude in mistaken belief that these words can offer comfort to a person who is hurting in some way? I have often heard it uttered after the wildfires that swept through Fort McMurray leaving many homeless and many others traumatized. And perhaps there is truth and wisdom in these words. However, I fail to see how this phrase and others like it can offer an iota of comfort to a person who has lost everything and is facing an uncertain future.
I think such times call less for words and more for presence. A shoulder to lean on, a hand to clasp, or simply sitting with a person in silence and empathy speaks more eloquently than any words can convey.
It is not easy to put yourself in another’s shoes, sometimes imagination fails us, especially when we have no clue how it feels having never experienced anything even remotely similar to what they are going through. Sometimes we feel intensely uncomfortable in the presence of people who have lost much. But saying things like “every cloud has a silver lining” is not helpful and can cut more deeply and leave people feeling even more isolated and alone. So let us not brush off the concerns, fears, and pain of others with our platitudes and instead offer them our strength and our empathy. Sometimes silence really is golden and the greatest gift we can offer.