"I gave all my oxygen to people that could breathe
I gave away my money and now we don't even speak
I drove miles and miles, but would you do the same for me?
Offered off my shoulder just for you to cry upon
Gave you constant shelter and a bed to keep you warm
They gave me the heartache and in return I gave a song
It goes on and on
So before I save someone else, I've got to save myself"
-Ed Sheeran "Save Myself"
I believe we all innately have the capacity to empathize. Some of us find it easier to connect with others' pain or others' joy. Some of us are so caught up in our own struggles that we fail to notice the suffering going on all around us. And some of us go past empathy to the point of drowning ourselves in others' problems that we have become blind or immune to our own.
Nevertheless, empathy is a powerful thing, and a beautiful one at that. It allows us to just for a moment experience with another the strongest expressions of their emotions, tap into something we perhaps do not understand, broaden our perspectives, and see beyond ourselves. When we empathize, we cannot help but be changed, and I like to think the other person's pain is lessened a least a little. I know personally that pain hurts a little less when there is someone who understands.
It was a lesson that took me years to learn. We cannot solve everyone else's problems. The most we can usually do is listen, offer what little wisdom we have to share, and allow them to feel less alone because suffering is lonely. However, I easily get caught in dwelling in people's problems. More recently I've realized that for me it is a distraction from my own complications and my own struggles and insecurities that are easier to ignore when they are pushed behind everything else.
How can we expect to heal others when we ignore the brokenness inside ourselves? Obviously not all kinds of broken are easily healed, and sometimes it's those that are the most broken that heal the most. As honorable as this is, it's incredibly draining. Often we aren't fully equipped to be reaching out to others when we haven't healed our own kind of broken.
I want to close these short thoughts with a little self reflection... Ed Sheeran's song really hit me tonight. I realized that my exhaustion at the end of the day is because I am constantly finding myself dwelling in the problems of others. While the ability to empathize is something to be treasured, it's quite another to dwell. It's an easy distraction from some of my own insecurities that aren't as easy to address.
So before going out and solving the problems of the world, make sure you know if the problem solver has their own problems relatively solved. Remember that at the end of the day, its your own insecurities, your own struggles, you have to face when you wake up in the morning. It's much easier to wake up and begin touching others' lives in a positive way when you can look at yourself and look at the world with confidence.