I believe in radical empathy, in creating opportunity for deep human connection from ordinary moments. Recently, as I hopped on the subway on my way home from a job interview, I glanced at a family sitting just inside the train: grandmother, mother, and two young children. As I nodded hello & started to walk past, something in the older woman’s eyes stopped me. Without thinking, I reached out to touch her on the arm and said, “I don’t mean to be intrusive, but are you okay?” She blinked, hard, and then burst into tears, motioning me to sit down with her on the seat. Over the next 20 minutes, the two women poured out their story of another sister with domestic violence and drug problems, and I did my best to listen, offer support, and understand their sense of despair. Together, we hatched a plan. When got off at my stop, hugs all around. I will always be connected to that family, though I will never see them again. No doubt, my counseling training helped in that situation. But this moment was a reminder that we can all offer more than the reactive compassion of a direct appeal for help from a charity bucket or a homeless person’s cardboard sign. We can listen, with our eyes open and our ears cocked, to whatever everyone around us would share with us with we let them. I believe that radical empathy makes us more fully human, more joyously alive, because it encourages interdependence in an anonymous world.
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