The Skill of Empathy
Giovanni Bernadone was born around 1181 and was the son of a prosperous silk merchant and a noblewoman. At a very young age, the family began calling him Francesco. He lived the typical life of a wealthy young man and enjoyed many of life’s splendors. However, he would soon partake in one of the first great empathy experiments in history.
In his early twenties, Francesco went on a pilgrimage to St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. It was impossible for him to ignore the contrast of beautiful mosaics and lavish architecture with the surrounding poverty just outside those walls. The story goes that he persuades a beggar to exchange clothes with him and spends the rest of his days living an extremely simple life focused on helping and serving others.
Today, we know Francesco as St. Francis of Assissi. It was St. Francis of Assisi’s empathy for all creation that inspired Jorge Mario Bergoglio to not only take his name when elected Pope but named his social Encyclical “Laudato si” after a religious song composed by St. Francis of Assisi. The song is known as the “Canticle of the Sun,” and is about having empathy towards the earth and all of its creatures.
It is easy to get caught up in our daily routines and schedules. We become focused on our own lives and what we need to do that we forget to slow down and look at what is happening in the world around us. Unlike information you might learn from textbooks, empathy is the capacity to understand or feel what another person might be feeling from their point of view. This quality that St. Francis of Assissi seemed to master is something that all of us have the potential to develop within ourselves.
Oftentimes, it is through the practice of empathy that great social and political change is achieved. It is how people around the world have raised millions to support Australia for wildfire relief funds or where students around the country are advocating for climate change. It can also be simple acts such as listening to a friend or demonstrating kindness to an elder. For this week’s #MakeItHappen Monday, challenge yourself to practice empathy like St. Francis of Assissi. Let us know how you are practicing this skill or even an instance where someone was empathetic towards you and email us at email@example.com or share your story and tag us on social.
Go make it happen, Luly & the YTeach Team
“Start by doing what's necessary; then do what's possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.” - St. Francis of Assissi