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  • Ⓒ Derek Marlow Ewell

A Story of Empathy

Updated: Aug 2, 2023

Empathy in action is the demonstration of understanding, compassion, and care towards others. It involves the ability to vicariously put oneself in another person's shoes, to recognize and acknowledge their emotions, and to respond with appropriate support and kindness.

There he was with a stack of books extending form his belly button to his chin, it was pouring rain and he was in the process of delivering these books to a teacher 6 blocks away.

He was standing in a doorway, looking at the rain and wondering how he would get to his appointment without getting soaked. Suddenly he burst into tears, with the realization that he was being othered, treated differently than other students. Only sixty minutes earlier he had been accused of plagiarism, and was ordered to produce the books he had referenced in his paper. So, he ran to the library and collected his reference books, and proceeded to try to deliver the books. His white teacher/accuser did not believe he could write such an interesting paper on the benefits of breast feeding babies. He was frozen with this realization, panicked and apoplectic. Then

a young white man walked by him and took one look at him and asked “what’s wrong” the young black man simply said he was trying to get these books to his teacher in a building six blocks away. The white young man said I have a car, I can drive you there, sixty seconds later they were in he’s car and five minutes later I arrived with my books dry and not soaked, I don’t remember what we talked about, I just know I had experienced empathy in action.

So, I delivered my reference books, and proved that I was not plagiarizing then given a C for my paper that “shocked and appalled” my white teacher who could not believe I could write such an compelling paper. I did not get an apology for being falsely accused. The young white man looked at me saw my need, ask me what was wrong, listened to me with his heart and his ears, then without hesitation gave me reassurance by stating that he had a car, simultaneously offering to drive me the six blocks, he didn't doubt what I needed he didn't doubt what I said he validated my distress and acted on my need.

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