A study in the news these days says that teens today are less empathetic. Empathy means to be able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and imagine what things must be like for them. Being able to do this helps us to be kinder and more Christ-like. It also makes us less self-centered.
When Jesus was living on the Earth, he often worried about the people who were hungry, including those who had come to hear him preach for several days. He had fasted for a very long time at the start of His ministry, so He understood hunger. However, He had never experienced sin, and yet He was as kind to the sinner and as able to know just what they needed as he was to those who were hungry. This is because Jesus, being perfect, had empathy.
Teens who are empathetic look at others differently than those who are not. A teen who isn’t empathetic might look at a friend whose family is poor and think, “Wow, they must have made really bad choices, or maybe they’re just lazy. They probably deserve to be poor, and helping them will just encourage them to stay lazy.” An empathetic teenager might thing, “It must be really scary for Jim right now. I wonder what I could do to help. Maybe I can find a way to get him to take a few things of mine I don’t need without making him feel like it’s charity. And I could ask my dad if he needs anyone else to help out at his work. Jim might want an afterschool job.”
Jesus told us that we were not to make final judgments about people. That is God’s job. We can never really know what happens in a person’s life to cause the challenges they’re facing, and we also don’t know what will happen to us in the future. No one is guaranteed to be safe from trials.
Just because studies show teens are less empathetic today doesn’t mean we have an excuse to be that way ourselves. Jesus taught us to love one another and to serve one another, regardless of what other teens are choosing.
How can you become more empathetic? The experts are saying one solution is to spend more time in the actual presence of people—not online or on the phone, but in person, talking and getting to know them. Another way is to avoid media that desensitizes you to pain and suffering.
When you see someone who has a hard life, ask yourself how you would feel in that situation and how you would want to be treated. Try to picture Jesus Christ watching the person and then imagine what He would do. Once you know what Jesus would do, and what He would want you to do, you’ll know what to do yourself. Remember, you could find yourself in the same situation or one equally painful yourself someday. What would you want others to do for you then?