Empathy Week: Hearing (and Believing) Each Other’s Stories

Trust – especially between people of different political perspectives – seems to be at an all time low.  I (a White person) was telling a friend (who is a White person) about what happened to another friend (who is a Black person) involving a server in a restaurant who ignored her place in line and gave the next table to a White couple when it was actually her turn.  “That wasn’t about racism,” my friend responded.  “The server was probably really busy and just didn’t see her.”  Exactly.

Some of us don’t believe that Tamir Rice was merely playing in a park before he was shot by police, perhaps because he wasn’t our son or our child’s friend. He must have done something threatening that prompted the police to shoot him.

I can retell the stories of Black friends being pulled over in their cars for no apparent reason, but it’s not the same as if those friends share those stories.

Again – empathy isn’t everything.  But it’s something.  Empathy helps us to humanize each other and understand each other a tiny bit better.  And when we know each other’s stories, our capacity to empathize with them grows.

Zoom meetings are perfect for story sharing and relationship-building.  My brilliant friend S suggested that our Anti-Racism Ministry Team begin our meetings with a relationship building question that everyone is invited to answer.  The first time we did this the question was one of my favorites:

What is your earliest memory about race?

One by one on Zoom, we shared a personal story and then invited someone else to share their story until everyone had the opportunity to share.  And voila!  We had made connections that had not been made before.  While you might scoff at spending 20 or 30 minutes at the beginning of a meeting sharing stories because we are not getting into the “real business” the truth is that those minutes of relational time are priceless in terms of making connections.

Here are some other questions that prompt a little self-revelation:

  • What is the story of your name?
  • When and where were you baptized and what have you been told/remember about it?
  • When was a time you felt the presence of God in an especially deep way?
  • When did you experience someone doing exactly the right thing to support you?
  • What’s the best present you’ve ever received?

Imagine opening every business meeting, every small group, every Bible study, every book study with a common question that people are invited to share.  Believe me, this is what people crave: deeper relationships, a sense of being known, an opportunity to share a glimpse of their lives.

And relationship-building bolsters trust.

These story times are the little tastes of dessert in our day.  We see each other in a new ways.  We see the world in new ways.

So – your spiritual discipline today might be to ask someone – individually or in a meeting  – to share a story about themselves.

Stories change us.  And maybe they will make us more empathetic.

Image of the painter Joe Lopez standing with one of his works from The Gallo Series.  You can read his story here.

2 responses to “Empathy Week: Hearing (and Believing) Each Other’s Stories

  1. I appreciate this piece. The first two questions at the end are actually not helpful. I have heard many people consider them painful because it is asked from a location of assuming there would be perhaps joy in those moments.
    The rest are helpful.

    Like

  2. My favorite thing in life is to hear people’s stories. ❤️

    Like

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