The importance of empathy


Dr. Singh speaks with a group of students regarding Trump’s recent travel ban

Let me start by stating the obvious “” there’s a lot going on in our country right now.

One of the toughest challenges in moments like these is the tension between wanting to be helpful and feeling helpless. So many of us want to do something, yet we feel paralyzed because we’re not sure what we can be doing to support those who need it.

No matter where you fall politically, there are some core principles on which we can agree. For example, we can all agree that there are people suffering in the world around us and that, as people who enjoy privilege, we have at least some responsibility to help relieve their suffering.

One of the advantages of being an old person like me is that you collect all sorts of experiences that help you identify what’s effective and useful. One of the things I have learned about myself is that there are plenty of good organizations out there doing good work, and it’s relatively easy to plug into them. I encourage you to do so.

In my experience, one of the most difficult things of civic engagement is to prepare oneself before getting involved. We often forget that how we approach something can make the difference between our actions being fruitful or fruitless. Allow me to offer two pieces of wisdom on how you can prepare yourself as you go out to serve your communities.

Open Your Mind

I’m not so naà¯ve to think that ignorance is the root of all evil and that all our problems would be resolved if people were more educated. I understand that our society’s problems are deeper and more sinister than that.

That said, understanding the issues about which you care the most will help you understand the complexities involved with each. Opening your mind to the issues will help you move beyond your personal perspective and to see the issues more holistically.

I’m not just emphasizing learning because it’s in my contract. I mean, it is, but that’s not the point. What I’m trying to stay here is that knowledge is power, and that the most effective and powerful change often comes from those who understand the issues at hand.

Let me say this “” opening my mind was probably the greatest lesson I took away from my time as a Trinity student. This process transformed my life, and it’s a development that I have cherished ever since.

Open Your Heart

One of the hardest things to do in moments like these is to set aside your ego and to recognize that you are working to serve those who need your support. It’s easy to get caught up in the idea that you are a great person for setting aside time and energy to help others. It’s easy to make your engagement about yourself.

From my perspective, one’s actions are most powerful when they are done for and with community. Empathizing with the other, putting yourselves in their shoes, truly caring about those whom you don’t know as well “” this is the process of opening your heart.

It’s a challenging proposition, especially for millennials who are more used to sharing random snap stories on @TUSnaps than making themselves vulnerable with strangers.

Opening your heart comes with a lot of risk. But believe me, it also comes with immense rewards. It can change your entire mindset as you approach those you are trying to serve, and it can make the difference between a rich experience and a poor one.

At the end of the day, I am not here to tell you what to do or what to believe. As a member of the faculty, and as an older brother (Uncle? Grandfather?), I see my job as trying to give you the right frameworks to engage with the world in a thoughtful and purposeful way.

How you shape these frameworks is up to you, and what you actually want to do is up to you. My request for now is that you stop feeling paralyzed and start engaging with the world around you with an open mind and an open heart. That’s the only way we will begin to make progress in our communities.