“I don’t even know them… why should I have empathy for them?”
I heard this quote during an interview on the radio the other day.
I would like to answer the question.
Beginning with that empathy, and its cousin, compassion, by its very nature is a generous act, one given freely. It is not transactional. ‘Knowing’ someone is secondary.
We interact with and pass by and come in contact with and inhabit the same space as countless people in any given day. Many, and sometimes most, of them are people we don’t even know.
Empathy is what has it work (and the more empathy, the more it can and will work). It is what has our daily lives be orderly, safe, courteous, striving forward.
It is what allows them to aid you when you are sick, or had a fire, or were hit by a disaster, or are grieving, or are just tired and frustrated at the end of a long day.
It can be the outpouring of support that gets you back on your feet.
It can just as easily be that smile and little bit of service, so you can get home and put your feet up.
Empathy allows us to build communities and build all the great things that come from working together.
Empathy is strength.
Empathy allows people to take us as seriously as we want to be taken.
It allows us to be related. To feel connected. To be generous, loving, laughing, giving, collaborative, and all the ways of being that we want and make us feel great.
Empathy is the pathway to discovering our spirit, in the grandest sense of the human spirit.
Empathy downright feels good.
And here’s the big thing.
You can’t ever ‘KNOW’ someone without empathy.
By your question, you clearly want to ‘know’ people.
Just as you, very much, desperately, like all of us, want to be known.
If no one grants you empathy, you will never be known.
And vice versa.
Being empathic allows that knowing to flow, and with it comes being touched, moved, and inspired. By others and by ourselves.
Empathy begets empathy begets empathy begets empathy.
So the why I would assert that you should have empathy to those you don’t know is because you don’t know them.
* And, of course, this is not to say you shouldn’t be empathic to those you do ‘know’ as well! Friends, family, coworkers, acquaintances, lovers, significant others, business relations, whomever.
** And the reason I keep putting ‘know’ in those quotes is because thinking we know someone in the same way we know arithmetic or grammar is not really empathic, for we are no longer interacting with the person in front of us, but with a story we have in our head about that person…