On Empathy and Repair

Women with Buckets
Thanks to Ginnette Riquelme/Reuters

I spent my entire professional life as a social worker/psychotherapist listening to my client’s struggles, their questions, and feelings. Through it all, in every hour, with each person or persons, I learned that empathy for another, understanding of another, came from mindful attention to the details of another’s life.

Without empathy, I could not imagine the dilemma of others; I could not think through what it would be like to lose a mom at eight years old, to be a first time mom and deliver a stillborn child, to carry on in spite of losing a job to a younger person.

Perhaps, that is why, no matter how hard I try to move away from the subject of President Trump’s personality and leadership style, to consider and write about other subjects, I return to his influence on the mood and lifestyle of our country. His war mongering speech at the United Nations, his name-calling tweets and bullying threats days after Hurricane Irma’s shattering strike reek of empathic-deficit leadership.

Okay, that is the reality; but how does one live with gratitude and hope in the face of such astonishing and aggrandizing tone-deaf leadership? I have concluded that each of us must do our part, the best we can. Individual efforts, actions grounded in empathy, can and do make a difference.

I was transfixed by CNN and MSNBC’s empathic reportage of the Mexican earthquake, the lines of volunteers of all ages outside buildings, a decimated school, passing buckets of debris, energized by care, hoping to rescue adults and children from the crush of burial.

I watched images of rescue operations— electrical workers checking gear, loading trucks from sites all over our country readying to travel to Florida to help remedy thousands of outages. When I think of the networks attending to the detail of reportage, the camera crews on site, the reporters dressed in tall boots and rain gear sending out image after image, I am grateful for the details of efforts to rescue.

Yes, it rained a bit here and as it turned out, more than a bit in my home where water seeped into our solarium (once again) where windows open to sky and trees gave way to the pressure of an all night tropical storm, the after effects of Hurricane Jose on the East coast. I am grateful for an immediate response from Mike, a home team helper, whose attention to and knowledge of details traced the source and helped set the stage for repair.

In some way, we are all responsible for repair. It is in the seeking of ways to help, in the interest of others, to extend beyond ourselves, each in our own way, that will help right the imbalance in empathy. This day, I am grateful to readers of this blog; you inspire me to extend into difficult-to-articulate areas and to connect through writing. Please comment and share your own experience on this topic.








17 thoughts on “On Empathy and Repair

  1. Colleen Hennigan

    Thank you for your thoughtful words. It is so easy to look at the world today and see all that is wrong and broken. But, we must also look inward and be honest with ourselves and ask, “What have I done to contribute to the mess,” (knowingly or not), and “What can I do to repair it?” I believe it is in the small things, the compassionate things, that can make a difference. Sometimes life gets in the way and this intention gets lost and overlooked. Thank you for reminding me that each day I’m alive I can do my small part to make a difference.

    1. fayewriter Post author

      Thanks for sharing your perspective on this tender subject. Grateful to be on a similar path and to share.

  2. Hy Kempler

    Dear Faye
    Sorry for your leak issues and glad for the repair. I too am annoyed and at times angry with the ongoing provocative and divisive actions of our President. He most recently antagonized NFL players by attacking their right to protest during Star Spangled Banner. Many of them are African-Americans standing up for their own people. The good news is that many of us are speaking out and empathizing with each other. Something to be grateful for. This is a time which tests our endurance.
    Thanks for writing about the struggle.

    1. fayewriter Post author

      So true, the fact that this is a time that tests our endurance and in our choices! Grateful that people are reaching out and empathizing with one another. The call-ins on radio are filled with engagement over the NFL response.


    Thank you Faye for the reminder of the good that is happening and that our individual efforts matter. Much love, Kat

    1. fayewriter Post author

      Thanks for commenting and sharing, Kat. I so appreciate your individual efforts!

  4. Rosemary Booth

    I like the accuracy and force of the phrase, “tone-deaf leadership,” as well as the gentle lessons on empathy in this essay: how it doesn’t ignore details, but springs from a sense of details, and stories. The calm tone in seems to make space for reflection.

    1. fayewriter Post author

      Yes, as I completed the piece, I was surprised at how my reflective muse had taken hold and shaped the piece in a way that surprised me though given this past week’s events, it was all there just waiting for a chance to engage. Thanks again, Rosemary, for your close reading.

  5. Pat

    Faye… it has been so heart warming to watch those in such dire straits take care of one another. Too bad it takes disaster to bring it out… but appreciate what is now happening. So heart breaking to see those folks in nursing homes sitting in deep water . Simply should not happen in a country with the means we have.
    So yes finding empathy , can be quite a challenge but all we may have to offer.
    Thank you for such a thoughtful piece.

    1. fayewriter Post author

      Pat, yes, the stories of so many rising to the occasion and making an effort to make a difference is inspiring and constantly reminds me how essential it is to try to notice and choose kindness in our everyday encounters.

  6. Robin Stein


    Thank you for showing that individuals do make a difference–and how easy it is to help and repair
    instead of deride and tear down. Stay dry in your house!

    1. fayewriter Post author

      Hi Robin, thank you for your comment. In these times of the quick trigger response, I am mindful of how much people appreciate a considered and kind response.

  7. Kassie M Rubico

    “…mindful attention to the details of another’s life.” Yes. That’s it, Faye. Thank you for the reminder and for another eloquent post. A hug to you, my friend.

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