Sunday, April 17, 2016

Amy and Empathy

Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of others.

My friend Amy—?  She defines empathy.

The thing about Amy is that she is genuinely, completely, and whole-heartedly happy when good things happen to other people.

This came clear to me when I told her, a little bashfully, about the contract I'd signed to write a book about school leadership.  We were working together at the time; I was the principal and she was the assistant principal.  I loved working with her.  She was my sidekick, my confidant, my sounding board, my partner in laughing at absurdities that popped up along the way.  We were a great team, too—she was good at everything I wasn't, so I leaned on her a lot.

Working with her, the thing I kept seeing was how she was truly rooting for everyone.  Kids, parents, colleagues, her friends—she wanted them all to succeed.  There wasn't a jealous or pouty bone in that girl's body.

"So, I wrote a book," I started.  I mumbled through a little explanation, a little unsure how to say it. Her smile widened as I talked.  "So... it should be out in a year or so.  I just thought I should tell you. I should tell someone, right?"

With a wide, happy grin, she looked at me straight in the eye and said, "That is so wonderful," she said.  The tone of her voice was as genuine, kind, and happy as I'd ever heard.  "You love to write... you love being a principal... and you had the courage to combine the two."  She paused for a moment.  "Good for you.  I am so, so happy for you."

And I could feel, in my guts, how much she meant it.

I'd always loved Amy, but I loved her to itty-bitty pieces in that moment.  Because her response was so honest and so clean and so pure.

There's that phrase, "I am not competing.  I want us all to make it."  That's Amy.

And, it's important to note, she's not just like that with close friends. She's like that with everyone.  When hearing good news, it would never occur to her to think, "Why not me?"  or, "She so doesn't deserve this," or, "When will it be my turn?"  She just shares the success and celebrates it whole-heartedly.

Another thing:  It's not just happy stuff, either.  When crappy things happen to others, she aligns herself right with them and feels the struggle, the loss, the anger.  "I'm so sorry," she'll say, and it's not just her words that say sorry, but it's every single bone in her body that is sorry.

I don't get to work with Amy every day anymore, because of unavoidable changes in our job paths.  I think of her every day, though, because of what I learned from her about empathy.  I make it a conscious thing to never miss a chance show someone the kind of empathy that Amy does.

For her, it's as natural as breathing.  I have to work at it a little, but I'm happy to do so.  Really happy.

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