But For The Grace Of God, There Go I.

Empathy: the ability to understand another’s feelings or struggles.

I was reading on In-Forum the story of the couple that had the twin babies prematurely on New Year’s Day. Sadly, one of the twins has already died; but, the other twin is hanging on despite being a mere one pound and eight ounces. The mother of the twins noted in the article how comforting it was to have others who had gone through the same thing contact her. One’s ability to understand another’s struggles because you have walked the same or a similar walk is a powerful gift to another who is now struggling.

I am not a therapist, nor do I play one on T.V.; but, I do believe that empathy is one of the most powerful gifts that can be shared between human beings. Empathy sends the message that you are not alone and that the feelings you are feeling are known and appreciated by someone who understands because they lived through them themself.

At graduation I sat next to a colleague from the Communication department who had lost her mother not too long ago. She wore her mother’s ring to the graduation ceremony as a reminder that her mother was with her. I understand this, I empathize with my colleague on the loss of a parent and the disappointment that is felt when they cannot physically be with you as you move through life’s events, be they big or small.

I can empathize with many on relationship trials and tribulations; I have had a few of those as well (and note few is loosely used). I understand the feelings of betrayal, loss, anger and loneliness. I have walked that walk a few times (see previous proviso re: few). There are quite literally hundreds of experiences I can empathize with others about …some good, some bad and some that are something else all together.

Recently I was at the Minard Hall update at NDSU held by President Hanson. There were folks in attendance who had occupied the offices that are now exposed to the elements by the collapse. They not only lost the physical location of their office, the possibility of retrieving their work and personal belongings hangs in the balance. Years of work represented in irreplaceable intellectual property and mementos that helped personalize and define each space – all potentially lost, damaged or simply irretrievable. It is akin to having experienced a fire, but a bit different as these poor folks can still see some of these items there in the exposed offices. I cannot empathize. I have not suffered such a loss. I sympathize with my colleagues, but I have not shared their experience and have no background with which to understand the depth of their feelings.

My department sits on the Northeast corner of Minard Hall and the bulk of my department was to occupy the areas that while not officially deemed unsafe, have still not been approved as “habitable”. My office is one of a handful on 4th Floor Minard that is still deemed “habitable”, but it is directly adjacent to the uninhabitable area. My department decided as a whole that there were enough faculty members concerned with going back into the office space that the entire department would request to be moved. If you understand some of the space issues on the campus, you know that it is no small feat to relocate 17 faculty offices and administrative support space. Thankfully the administration was quick to accommodate our request; unfortunately, our three discipline department had to be split up and placed into different locations to accomplish this. The department, office environment and everyday interaction we have known in the past evaporated in a moment.

My working environment will change dramatically, likely for a year or more. It won’t be perfect or ideal, my kitschy office space that is now filled with books, mementos and stacks of materials for future projects will be packed up and taken home until the new offices in the renovation are ready for move-in. I feel some sadness about the change, but I know it is for the best. It is my ability to have empathy about the sudden move and change in operating environment that heightens my sympathy for those who are experiencing the loss of so much in addition to dealing with the emotions of the move. I cannot imagine how they will begin classes this upcoming week given the issues they are dealing with. I know that I feel a bit off-center and challenged going into the semester, so I can only guess at the feelings they are facing. So, in the areas where I have no experience to offer empathy I offer sympathy and whatever support I can.

As I said earlier, I am not a therapist, nor do I play one on T.V. – I am just a regular person; but, if there is one thing I have learned in all my years prior to the new forty it is this: it is the job of regular folks to help other regular folks survive these type of things be it through providing empathy, sympathy or other types of support. We are all in this life together and you should always note, “But for the grace of God, there go I.”

Day one hundred and eighty-eight of the new forty – obla di obla da


1 Response

  1. GFBison

    Empathy is so important! So is pitching in and helping your neighbor. When our city was flooded in 1997, we saw an outpouring of help from all over. This came in the form of sympathy and help from people in the region, as well as empathy and support from our neighbors. I’ll never forget how the whole disaster brought out the best in people. I’m sure you will experience sympathy from others on campus as you deal with this upheaval of your professional life.

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