A few months ago, my daughter and her best friend were doing an art project at my dining room table. My 6-year-old daughter announced that she didn’t like the color brown. And her best friend took offense at that because she is brown.
I identify as heterosexual, white female. I am so unambiguous about that identification that it’s hard for me to imagine what life for someone who doesn’t identify that way is like.
Except for the gift of empathy. Through empathy I can tap into my tenderness as a parent start to understand how parents of black and brown kids hope their child will confidently walk the path to their full potential. And how those parents must cross their fingers and hope their children won’t suffer anyone’s cruelty especially for something as superficial as their skin color, even as they know they will.
Through empathy I can relate how exposed I felt when I decided to become a single parent to how someone who feels like coming out with their sexual orientation might bump against family expectations for success.
Through empathy, I can feel every emotion that I’ve hidden behind my sunniness to conjure sorrow for men who are told they need to man-up and not show their emotions as they walk through the troubles of their life.
Empathy is the way that I can acknowledge that the Center of me is the same as the Center of you, no matter how you identify.
As my daughter tried to find the words to say that not liking brown was not a reflection of how she felt about her friend, I listened and appreciated the frankness of children. They don’t mince words and so they more effectively teach what it feels to be in their skin.
I will never be perfect at not offending someone or get it right to imagine what it’s like to be anyone else. But I can try in every situation to empathize, to ask “say more” and to learn.
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(featured photo from Pexels)