The power of empathy

Some women, having been ill-treated by men, may suppose that men are unpredictable and different from women. Similarly, men who would have had hard times with women might assume women to be difficult to handle. The same goes for racial dispositions of humanity. Blacks assume that whites are different from blacks, and vice versa.

Suppose there was some scientific discovery, enabling switching genders so that the female becomes male, and vice versa. The same person, having complained about the opposite sex, would complain in reverse, then represent her previous male chauvinist. This would be a reversal of causes for complaints. This describes the degraded condition of human nature.

The same could apply if racial orientations were switched, so that blacks, become whites and whites become blacks. A former white racist, having become black, turns out to be an ardent activist against perceived white supremacists. This reveals an illusion that complainants behave differently when becoming aggressors.

The source of the problem lies in the ignorance of human origin. The physical structure, whether tall, short, male, white or black, does not describe the character of the personality. Fighting over differences in humanity emanates from ignorance of human origin, rather than physical structures. Animosities are based on assumptions, rather than facts, regardless of anyone’s background.

The quibbling about the perceived lack of civility with the other person arises from not being that person. What is it like, to be a robber, or any antisocial character, in society? In our Zimbabwean situation, what is it like to be a corrupt politician, embezzling state funds, but immune to prosecution?

 Unbelievable to most people, is that there is nothing so degrading as to commit offences, but remaining unprosecuted. The murderers, who walk scot-free, are in a spiritual prison. Nothing can be worse than not being prosecuted for harming other people. It can only be a fictitious person, taking comfort in such conditions.


When equipped with the knowledge of human origin, it becomes impossible for anyone to be antagonized by other people’s wrong behaviour. The antagonist, whether of a different gender or racial background, is not different from the complainant. The conclusions, based on what would be perceived physically, cannot represent the reality of the personality.

Ordinary people, seen walking around, do not know their true identity. They may assume being of a particular race but that viewpoint is illusionary. Each person assumes being different from the other person. But the Biblical evidence reveals no differences.

There may be differences in talents and other attributes, but without removing similarities in humanity. A person with a condition of mental illness is not different from one whose mental capacity would be considered intact. The perceived differences are imaginary, being a result of not having gone through the experiences of another person.

Where there appear to be differences in race or gender, appearances would be matters of aberration. In this world, some things may appear to be something else whose nature would be unrealistic. Nations can engage in war and cause many casualties, but without anything of substance, to have caused the fight. This is how insane this world can be characterized.

“So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12-13 NIV).

The Law and the Prophets, handle all problems of diversity. How would one feel, if in the shoes of the other person, projected as of another race, for instance? If male, what is it like to be female? If impossible to be female or male, the truth would be in not knowing oneself.

Perhaps one is white, observing blacks living in squalor, unimaginable to associate with humans. How do such conditions connect with the intellectual capacity of the individual? Of course, it may be impossible to pretend to be in a situation one has never experienced. This is why happiness is possible, only to those able to experience anything.

There is an aspect of humanity, identified as empathy, for lack of a fitting word. Physically, a person cannot identify with another. If a person has both legs but perceives another struggling without both legs, does that make him different? This does not mean envisioning the possibility of losing one’s legs, as well, but being in the shoes of the person without legs.

Through empathy, it is possible to understand the person without both legs. This is different from sympathy, which invites the feeling of being advantaged when compared to the other. Empathy invites listening, before concluding. But listening is a spiritual application, going further than hearing physical sounds.

Understandably, the disadvantaged have to explain their situation, not according to the listener’s viewpoint. But by doing unto others as one would like others to do to him, one hears beyond the words of the affected person. Without listening, it may be impossible to address the problem. But there is also spiritual communication, especially when considering a victim who is unable to talk.

With listening, one avoids assumptions, about what affects the hurting person. Everything has to be understood from the affected person’s feelings. From that spiritual listening, a person understands the needs of the affected person. This does not mean showing remorsefulness, necessarily.

Empathy requires quick consideration of what is required, as possible alleviation of the problem. This implies being there for the affected person. The typical Biblical example could be that of a Good Samaritan. The sacrifice by the Good Samaritan, made him feel good, but on behalf of the injured person.

The Good Samaritan’s use of money to access medical support for the injured person was wisely executed. This brings us to the question of prioritization. Proper budgeting, handles all problems, which even government authorities struggle with. Poor budgeting implies putting value in less valuable things.

In other words, good budgeting implies putting human life, ahead of everything. This is different from those prioritizing the purchase of expensive caskets for dead relatives. It is about prioritizing life, but whose life? It comes down to prioritizing one’s own life. How does one cater for one’s own life?

The methodology of catering for one’s own life is what the referred Scripture attributed to. “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12-13 NIV). In other words, the best way to cater for one’s needs is to cater for other people’s problems. This statement is even attractive to aspiring business people.

An intelligent businessman looks at areas where people lack necessities, using that as opportunities. He fills the gap by providing for the needy in that community. His business thrives, enabling him to earn the title of a successful businessman. But all he did was to cater the needs of his community.

Value addition emanates from doing unto others as one likes them do to him. Some people hate business people, most of who are known to engage in swindling, for profit. That consideration is different from doing unto others as one likes them to do unto one. Handing out freebies appeals, but that is not what the poor want.

The poor people wish they could have access to also cater to others. This describes the principle, understood, only, by those with empathy. Even if free handouts were given, the poor people desire to also give something in return, just to express appreciation. Jesus commended one such widow at some point.

As he looked up, Jesus saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. “I tell you the truth,” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All those people gave their gifts out of their wealth, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.” (Luke 21:1-4 NIV).

What Jesus saw in that poor lady was not a person forced to give everything she had. This was a person who valued her life more than anything else. Whatever the cause of collections on that day, the widow felt spurred to, at least, give something to the needy. Possibly, the collections were intended to help other poor people, like her, but she felt persuaded to also give something.

She may have decided to fast, on that day, just because she prioritized giving. That is what budgeting is all about. Her life was so important but viewed from the perspective of other people. Empathy is a virtue that raises the standards of humanity. Who doesn’t want to be thanked for doing some charitable activity, in this world? Nevertheless, being appreciated reduces the person’s value.

The upshot of it is that one cares for one’s life when caring for other people. One solves his own problem when solving other people’s problems. This is the philosophy of any business enterprise. Nothing functions without such business people taking their positions to solve problems in communities.

The love of money referred to, by Jesus, does not suggest that all business enterprises are to be avoided. Jesus was addressing the issue of profiteering, which is typical of our Zimbabwean situation. Otherwise, the people with comfortable lifestyles are those catering for other people’s needs, whether making money or not. Happiness comes from helping other people. But let us review the Scripture about the love of money:

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. 

“But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness! No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money(Matthew 6:19-24 NIV).

From this, let us consider a scenario of a businessman who, probably, carries a big cash balance, in the Bank. This is intended for him and for his children, supposedly. The focus would be on how much money he would have accumulated, through a particular business transaction.

When looked at carefully, corruption would be regarded as more virtuous, than addressing the needs of those intended to be served. That person values money, more than humans. However, if he jeopardizes his earnings, in order to effectively cater for people’s needs, he receives goodwill from the people catered for. Jesus further illustrated this point using a parable of a shrewd manager.

“The manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do now? My master’s is taking away my job. I’m not strong enough to dig, and I’m ashamed to beg—I know what I’ll do so that, when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.’ So he called in each one of his master’s debtors. He asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ ‘Nine hundred gallons of olive oil,’ he replied. The manager told him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it four hundred and fifty.’

“Then he asked the second, ‘And how much do you owe?’ A thousand bushels of wheat,’ he replied. He told him, ‘Take your bill and make it eight hundred.’ The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings” (Luke 16:3-9 NIV).

The shrewdness of this manager was in catering for other people, who then looked after him during his period of unemployment. Jesus used this parable to illustrate a point in catering for other people, and not corruption, necessarily. A person, who would not be driven by empathy to be in business, should not be in business, in the first place.

Basically, it is the power of empathy that enables the application of God’s love in Christian endeavours. It is a question of what one does for others, as a condition that enables him/her to stand. If anyone wants to live well, he should consider the aspect of catering for other people. The idea of service is senior to everything in Christianity.

Andrew Masuku is the author of Dimensions of a New Civilization, laying down standards for uplifting Zimbabwe from the current state of economic depression into a model for other nations worldwide. A decaying tree provides an opportunity for a blossoming sprout. Written from a Christian perspective, the book is a product of inspiration, bringing relief to those having witnessed the strings of unworkable solutions––leading to the current economic and social decay. Most Zimbabweans should find the book as a long-awaited providential oasis of hope, in a simple conversational tone.

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