On the empathy of a toddler

I couldn’t do it any better. None of us could. Not one, not a single person.

Not unless you, too, were two years old. Not unless you, too, were so filled with innocence; your heart still sporting an unbroken seal, the cotton still lodged firmly in the top, clogging the cynicism, soaking in the barbs.

Still shielding doubt. Still accepting the pain of others as your own.

This is still how Sierra sees the world, and it might be both the tenderest and the most genuine thing I’ve ever seen. Her friends? Their hurt is her hurt. Her parents? Our sadness is her sadness.

“When Isaac cries, it makes me sad,” she says. And it’s that honesty – that unbridled empathy – that I have yet to experience in anyone else.

As we grow and live and understand that some people use emotions as weapons and every unit of communication can be a war, we can’t help but to sometimes doubt sadness. We lose our ability to empathize. Little by little, it calluses. The seal long gone, all that remains is a quarter teaspoon of aspirin dust and the dull shake of the remaining pills.

Outside of a few select friends and loved ones, we protect ourselves from being manipulated. And just like that, our culture begins seeing empathy as weakness.

I still like to think I feel it. I know I do with those I love. With those in awful situations. I might even be more sensitive to others’ pain than most, if routinely tearing up during certain Ben Folds songs is any indication.

But not like Sierra. Not like any two year old. Unwilling to accept that people can be bad, they still believe in empathy. And they use it without understanding how much it means to the rest of us.

This was lovingly handwritten on March 1st, 2010