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Empathy and Peacemaking

“Fools find no pleasure in understanding but delight in airing their own opinions.” - Proverbs 18:2

As we have studied the book of Philemon and have been wrestling with how to work towards reconciliation, I keep coming back to how important empathy is in peacemaking. Empathy is trying to feel what others feel—to put yourself in their shoes. Instead of making judgments about why they did what they did or believe what they believe, we seek to understand with love.

Gary Thomas, in his book Sacred Marriage, tells an old rabbinical story, likely a metaphor, about how the spot was chosen for God’s holy temple:

“Two brothers worked a common field and a common mill. Each night they divided whatever grain they had produced and each took his portion home.  One brother was single and one was married with a large family. The single brother decided that his married brother, with all those kids, certainly needed more grain than he did, so at night he secretly crept over to his brother’s granary and gave him an extra portion. The married brother realized that his single brother didn’t have any children to care for him in his old age. Concerned about his brother’s future, he got up each night and secretly deposited some grain in his single brother’s granary.  One night they met halfway between the two granaries, and each brother realized what the other was doing. They embraced, and as the story goes, God witnessed what happened and said, ‘This is a holy place—a place of love—and it is here that my temple shall be built.’ The holy place is that spot where God is made known to his people, ‘the place where human beings discover each other in love.’”

Empathy leads to understanding and understanding leads to connection and compassion. We all experience the world differently. The less we judge and assign evaluations and the more we empathize, the better positioned we will be to mend what is torn.

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