"The pages are still blank, but there is a miraculous feeling of the words being there, written in invisible ink and clamoring to become visible." -Vladimir Nobokov

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Quote of the Day: Empathy

"All I ever really want to know is how other people are making it through life. Where do they put their body, hour by hour, and how do they cope inside of it." - Miranda July

When I was little I loved staying at my friend's houses. I saw it as a glimpse into their every-day lives, what it was like to be a part of their family, what daily customs they took part in that were foreign to me. Now, I hardly have to think twice about that curiosity. I can't help listening to the interesting conversation in the next booth over at a restaurant, or wondering what the person sitting alone on a park bench is thinking about.

What I love about this quote is that in just two sentences Miranda July taps into so many aspects of human empathy and curiosity. It's both empathetic and reflective. It makes you want to look at the person across from you on the subway and wonder, "how are they making it through life?"

Somehow, though, she manages to make it less about our own nosy tendencies, and more about the possibilities for empathy. The tender line "Where do they put their body, hour by hour" doesn't connote eavesdropping on the subway. I find it reminiscent of the Annie Dillard quote, "How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives." It's about looking at the minute in order to understand the big picture, the overall arc of our lives. And then there's that last piece, "how do they cope inside of it." She's not asking what you had for lunch today, who you're going to meet for dinner tonight. She's not even asking what you're thinking. She's asking about how you experience the world. She's seeking out that thin thread that leads to whatever it is that makes you who you are, all tangled up in your experiences and your thoughts and the things you believe to be true.

I think that we can seek empathy wherever we are. I think that curiosity, while it can seem shallow at first glance, creates a ripple affect where the questions we ask lead us to a more well-rounded answer. Someone once said that you can't hate something you're curious about. I love that.

Too often I find myself stopping at that first rush of curiosity. I'll feel a question coming on at an event, or when I'm listening to someone tell a story, and I'll write my questions off as silly, or not worth asking. I'm careless with my curiosity, and so I don't give myself as many opportunities for empathy. These are words that are easy to throw around so much that they lose their meaning (I'm well aware of that), but Miranda July has the right idea in breaking them down into smaller pieces. Empathy starts with asking questions and really listening to the answers. It starts with a single person in a single body in a single hour. We should all begin by marveling at the little things.

1 comment:

  1. And it often makes us realize how we are more the same in many ways, than not.