I always sort of thought empathy was something you were born with. Well, maybe I knew you weren't born with it, but I at least thought that when kids were two and realized other people had ideas, agendas, opinions, and that you don't always get "your way" they developed empathy for those opinions that other people have. I've learned this summer that empathy grows a lot slower than I first thought.
I learn a little more about the preschool every week. Last summer I learned to call their students "friends" and when they get resistant that all you have to say is "this is not a choice." This summer I noticed that when the kids kick, splash, hit, take, or generally irritate each other the teachers don't say, "we don't hit. Hitting is wrong," which is my first reaction, but instead they say, "we don't hit. It makes our friend ____ sad." This explanation enforces proper behavior, but also teaches empathy. Most of the kids would still probably qualify as psychopaths when they are five. That might be an offensive way to put it, but at the explanation of "it makes our friend ___ sad" they often tilt their heads to the side and look confused like they'd never thought about the way their actions impacted others. I'm not sure when people get all their empathy. I feel like I have a fair amount now, but I could use a little more.
I don't want to be too empathetic. I don't to feel all the world's problems at once. If I felt each of the 107 deaths of every minute as much as I felt the death of a friend I'd instantly crumple into a ball of sadness and refuse to continue existing in such a terrible world, but I want to remember to be grateful for my life and my health. Empathy gives us the perspective that little kids lack. Sometimes I want just a bit more so I can say (as The Doctor does), "I've never met anybody who wasn't important before." Sometimes when I talk to people I struggle to find why they matter and perhaps, when my empathy grows, I'll be a better human who can really see how special they are. I really hope that my empathy is still growing. It would be fantastic if every person I met taught me what makes them sad so that I could eventually be sensitive to everyone's experience.