With Great Emotions Come Great Responsibility: Empathy

This next statement may come as a shock to you, but I’m gonna go out and say it: I’m emotional.

Yep. If you’ve ever spent any time with me (or lived with me for the past 22 years), you’d learn this very quickly. I’ve run out of excuses. It’s not from my lack of sleep, it’s not because I haven’t exercised today, and it’s not my time of the month. I’m just emotional.

I’m told that I wear my emotions on my sleeve, which is true. I used to see this as an insult…many times it was. It’s taken me long enough to realize that they’re not always that bad.

There’s nothing wrong with emotions. We all have them. It’s what we choose to do with them that truly makes the difference. Unfortunately, I seem to have placed myself in a field of work where emotions are used on a daily basis.

Working with refugees, there’s a fine line between empathy and burning out.

We want to empathize with the stories we hear. We want to cry when they cry. We want to laugh when they laugh. We want to take their hand, walk alongside them and show them that they’re not alone.

We also don’t want to burn ourselves out. Hearing stories of injustices on a daily — villages burned, women raped, children orphaned — places a weight on us. The weight only gets heavier as the days go by. In order to survive this realm of work, it’s necessary to establish boundaries and distance ourselves.

It’s tough to find a middle ground. Aid workers, you know the struggle.

The times I’ve experienced empathy is when I’ve truly been broken down. I thought I’d be better at distancing myself. I thought I could establish a thicker skin to deal with the stories I’ve heard. I thought that maybe if I could distance myself from their suffering, I could appear stronger and help them more effectively.

But that hasn’t worked. Every time I meet with a Rohingya family, I’m broken yet again.

I thought it would get easier, the more stories I hear…the more injustices I’m exposed to…but it’s never easy.

But it’s what drives me. It’s what drives me to start Books Unbound. It’s what drives me to work a flexible job so I can dedicate more time to my education project. It’s what drives me to track them down across the States and share their stories. And it’s definitely what drives me to write this blog post at 2am.

I cried when I found the first Rohingya family had been resettled to the States. I knew that was the moment everything was going to change for me.

I knew that their English would become good enough for me to finally hear their entire story (and probably cry). I knew that I could finally be part of their lives in a more meaningful way.

That was also the moment when I wanted my actions to speak louder than words. I wanted to dedicate my efforts to helping them however I can. Aaaaand commence the countless hours of travel, thousands of dollars, and eventual formation of Books Unbound. It was all for them.

Call me what you want. An overly emotional 22-year-old. An angsty, fiery redhead. Whatever.

Regardless, I’ve decided that perhaps emotions aren’t always a bad thing. They’re powerful enough to invoke change. Emotions have power. It’s how we choose to use them when they can make a difference.

So before you make fun of your brother for tearing up at the end of the last Wolverine movie: Logan (which was very sad, by the way), just remember this:

With great emotions come great responsibility.

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