November 18, 2013 by AJ Briones
Here I am writing the 8th installment of the Heart Series entitled Empathetic Tears. Honestly, as a growing Christian, I have been so exposed to the word empathy. As a teacher, I even taught the meaning of the word to my students during their values education subject. I am well aware of the subject but now that I am about to write about it, I am clueless.
Revisiting my lessons as a values education teacher, I would usually define Empathy as putting oneself in the shoes of others or asking oneself a simple question, “If I was in the same situation or position as him/her, would I feel or act the same way?” That question would open up a lot of doors in understanding other people as I knew of it. But now as I sit down here writing, I have a question, “Is it simply like that or is there something deeper about the topic Empathy?”
A natural phenomenon struck the world as the typhoon #YolandaPH or internationally recognized #Haiyan struck our nation the Philippines near the islands of Leyte, Samar and surrounding areas. A lot of people lost their homes and were devastated by the turmoil that the super typhoon left on its trail. People were hungry and unable to do something. Helplessness was an evident element in the surroundings. The Filipino people as they are remained strong. In spite of the hardships they fought on to live. Different nations did their part in providing relief and medical operations for the survivors and even the Filipino people who were not affected by Haiyan stood and gave their hand in this effort to aid their countrymen. Even the #CNN reporter Anderson Cooper was able to commend the Filipino people for this effort and I quote from his Twitter account, “The Philippines is an awesome country. I’m in awe of the strength and spirit of the people I’ve met. Mabuhay Philippines! Maraming salamat!”
All of it was awesome; to see the Filipino people really empathizing with one another and sharing the pain of this natural phenomenon. Personally, I have no right to make any comments about the situation. I am one of those Filipinos who did nothing. I live here in Metro Manila and I have done nothing to contribute other than doing retweets related to the issue. I did not donate. I did not help re-pack. Obviously, I did not have access to go to Leyte, Samar or Ormoc to provide my assistance. I did nothing and I am not that proud of it.
Early today (November 18, 2013) at the office, I sat down on my table having a bad headache. I was looking at my computer revising a training material that I might be using at one of my talks. Two of my officemates went in for work and before starting with their daily tasks sat down and decided to have a chat. One of them was volunteering in the sorting of goods to be sent to the devastated areas. Their talk was filled with compassion and sincere desire to help but as for me I have to ask for my pardon. I was annoyed. In my mind I was thinking that I was so fed up of hearing about the topic. It was so depressing for me to hear it all and even seeing the tweets of people assisting and arguing about what should and should not have been done. My mind was honestly shouting out, “Move on!” I know this statement placed me in your radars as an unpopular person. Believe me, I wondered why I thought of that and I sincerely am disappointed with myself in the realization that I lacked something. I lacked a tear for my own nation. I had no concern. Pathetic as it may seem but that was the truth that I cannot deny. I ask myself now, “What’s wrong with me?” Here are some of my thoughts in building within me Empathetic Tears; not forced but genuinely grown from the bottom of my heart.
1) I needed to take off my blinders and see the situation for what it is. People get hurt as I get hurt. The gravity of pain isn’t measured by my own standards but by each person’s standard. I had no control of the circumstance and surely I had no control of what people would feel; especially those who experienced the calamity.
2) I needed to see things in God’s perspective. The fact is that man’s vision is so limited. “For the eyes of the LORD move to and fro throughout the earth that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His.” (2 Chronicles 16:9). God sees everything. He sees things that I see and do not see. From His eyes I have to see things. That’s the only way for me to understand His heart for us all.
3) I needed to act not based on emotion but based on God’s character. Romans 5:8 says, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Sin was something God cannot tolerate but in spite of us being covered in that shame He loved us. The reason why Jesus came for us. He died for us and we have to act in love as well. Serving people isn’t based on emotions, if it was, helping would be seasonal or calamity based.
4) I needed to be aware. I’m no news person. I rarely read the newspaper, news on Yahoo! Or even on the television. All I see are the trending posts on facebook and twitter that I usually pass by when I scroll down to look for a post I’d like to retweet, share or “like.” I had to read and be a news person. I had to be involved in the discussion. Sure, I won’t have any idea as to what people are talking about at first but as I listen (not just hear) and read more things about #Haiyan, I’d have a deeper understanding.
5) I need to pray. I had to ask God. Reality is that there is a problem with me. I was lacking compassion and that was one important ingredient about being a Christian. I had to have compassion as Jesus did. If I have a lack, God can supply. He’ll be the one who would instill in me a unique compassion for people. “…His compassion is never limited.” (Lamentations 3:22). “Until now you have asked for nothing in My name; ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be made full.” (John 16:24).
There are so many things I need to fix in me but it starts with a decision to follow the example of Christ. God builds us up an Empathetic Tear for us – a desire to be compassionate and stand with one another in good and bad times. I am sure that God is changing my heart as I write this. What I know is that God is able to change me and without Him, I am unchangeable.