Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

The Transformative Power of Empathy

with 4 comments

A few years ago, I wrote a few blogs about what I called “transformative powers.” The first one was about writing. The second was about music. And while I am unsure right now what I’d intended the third blog to be, originally, I now know what the third power is: It’s empathy.

Now, you’re probably asking yourselves, “Why? Why empathy? How does it transform anything?”

Well, when we understand someone else’s actions, that helps us to communicate with them — even when we don’t agree, at all, as to what they may have done. You must have empathy to try to understand, and you also have to risk the fact that you may find out some things you never wanted to know…but all of that is because of how empathy can transform your life for the better.

“But, Barb,” you protest. “If I’m finding out stuff I don’t want to know, how does that help?”

We have to be willing to risk all to gain all. We must believe that we can understand someone else, if we try. Otherwise, communication would be an impossibility, and harmonious relations — however you might like to define them — would be a myth. Society would definitely have not come into being, either, without someone having empathy at some point in the process.

Empathy can transform an enemy into an ally. It can also remake the world, slowly, one person at a time. That has value, even if you can’t always see it.

Personally, I think empathy transforms your life in two ways. One, it allows you to see, for a brief instant, into the mind’s eye of another person. Two, it points out that “here but for the grace of God/dess go I.”

See, we’ve all made mistakes. Some of us survive those mistakes and in the process realize we can help others not make the same mistakes we’ve made. Wanting to help others who we may not know very well in order to help them avoid some of the pitfalls that have messed up our own lives is what empathy’s all about.

If that’s not transformative, I don’t know what is.

Written by Barb Caffrey

December 5, 2022 at 3:28 am

Posted in Uncategorized

4 Responses

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  1. I took the CliftonStrengths assessment this year, designed to reveal your top strengths. Empathy is in my natural top 10 – strengths I rely on without having to think about. A sort of default setting. On the Myers-Briggs assessment, I’m intuitive. Put those together and it’s like a double whammy of feeling what others feel. People tell me I’m “nice” because I’m so understanding. It’s not being nice — it’s feeling what they feel and not wanting it done to me. Like every strength, there is a flip side. I can be unfeeling too. Soemtimes that’s self-protection. But I try to lean more on the empathic side, and when I do, it changes things for the better.

    Kayelle Allen

    December 5, 2022 at 8:25 am

    • That makes perfect sense, Kayelle. Your good qualities shine through. 😀

      Barb Caffrey

      December 5, 2022 at 5:26 pm

  2. While there is a “Transformation Power Of Empathy” as it helps us to see the other person as Human, there are times when so-called “empathy” shuts down the thinking process.

    “Empathy for the homeless” for example shuts down questions about “why are they homeless”?

    Why should I “empathize” with people who “would have a home” if they got treatment for their “mental problems”.

    Why should I “empathize” with people who “live off of the well-meaning help” of others rather than find work and accept help to find work.

    And sadly, too many of a certain type of person wants others to “have empathy” but shows no “empathy” for people who have different political/social views than them.

    When those sort of people throw words like Nazi, Fascists, Racists, etc. at me and others, they obviously show no empathy for our point-of-view so why the heck should I “show empathy” toward them?

    Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

    December 5, 2022 at 10:25 am

    • Paul, what you said has a great deal of merit.

      I don’t like to blame homeless people for being homeless, because there are circumstances — especially in places like the SF Bay area — that are so exorbitant, it’s almost impossible to live there. You may not be able to get enough money to move out when your lease is up, and because the rents are so high (they are right up there with NYC, last I saw), you can’t save anything either.

      When Michael and I lived there, over 80% of our take-home pay — and yes, I do mean 80 (eighty) percent — went for rent on our apartment. We did manage to save a little to help us leave in early 2004, but it was tough.

      If someone loses a job in the SF Bay Area, they are in real trouble.

      Now, if you want to have more treatment for people who are drug addicts or alcoholics who happen to be homeless, I’m all for that. Without treatment, even if these folks won the lottery, they’d not be able to capitalize on it and would lose the money and anything they bought along the way.

      Taxes are the issue, really, when it comes to treatment for drug and alcohol issues. If people want low taxes, that’s usually the first thing that goes (treatment for people who want to get help for their addictions). That doesn’t mean every single time that’s the program (or those are the programs) that get axed, but it’s a high probability the programs will be on the chopping block because it takes quite a while for an addict to get clean and stay clean. There often are relapses. Families end up having to deal with the addicts before they should due to mental health and addiction hospitals having to run on a for-profit basis; this means people have to be run through the programs as fast as possible, and that isn’t the best way to handle addiction. (Not hardly.)

      What are the answers? I don’t know. (Perhaps Kamas does, because he’s probably seen stuff like that due to his job.) I know more of what doesn’t work than what does.

      Anyway, what we have to do as people, Paul, is to do our best to become a kinder, wiser, and gentler person every single day. We’re not always going to manage to do this. (In fact, it’s pretty damned hard to do.) But it’s worth doing, if only to widen your perspective.

      As for others who also need to widen their perspective…well, I can’t do much other than tell them the same things I’m saying right now to you. (Trust me. That is exactly what I say.)

      Barb Caffrey

      December 5, 2022 at 5:39 pm


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