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The Paths of Empathy: Feeling Others as Yourself

The Empathy Exams by Leslie JamisonLeslie Jamison would be a bad moral role model. She is imperfect. She drinks too much, she used to cut her wrists and she did an abortion back in time. And moreover, her heart beats too fast. The medical name for such condition is supraventricular tachycardia. Leslie Jamison wrote her first novel, “The Gin Closet”, in 2011 and recently she published a new book, a collection of essays, called “The Empathy Exams”.


Feel Someone’s Pain

Why do people contemplate the pain of other people? It makes you feel uncomfortable, it is not an experience that will make you feel better. While seeking material for her book, Jamison traveled around the country, trespassed the dangerous territories, visited hospitals, prisons and trials and watched, scrutinized the pain of men and women around her. She studied all forms of pain and its degrees in the attempt to be able to feel it herself and spill it out on the paper.


What Is Empathy?

In one of her essays Leslie Jamison wrote: “Empathy isn’t just something that happens to us — a meteor shower of synapses firing across the brain — it’s also a choice we make: to pay attention, to extend ourselves. It’s made of exertion, that dowdier cousin of impulse. Sometimes we care for another because we know we should or because it’s asked for, but this doesn’t make our caring hollow. The act of choosing simply means we’ve committed ourselves to a set of behaviors greater than the sum of our individual inclinations.” Empathy is something, what makes people come out from their comfort zone and enter the dimension of pain of the other creature. It will hurt, but it also might lessen the suffering of the person you decided to empathize.


Being Kind Hurts

The biggest problem of empathy is that if you once shared pain with someone, pain might fall in love with you and seek you out sometimes. While making her explorations and trying to feel strangers’ pain, Jamison got into lots of troubles herself. She broke her bones after she fell from a tree in Costa Rica, she got an egg of a botfly under her skin in Bolivia and she got mugged in Nicaragua. But Jamison does not regret any of her misfortunes – the author studied her own pain, as if empathizing herself.


Perhaps, Jamison’s book will not make you a better person. But the feelings, the emotions, the empathy, hidden within her collection of essays, will not leave your soul untouched. And maybe it proves, that all her explorations were not accomplished in vain.

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