“Into” + “Feeling: Jamison Explains Empathy

Empathy ExamsI’ve gone the past week without internet as I was relocating into my new southern home and lifestyle, and taking regular dips in the public pool became more important than calling Time Warner to schedule an appointment. Alas, we have caved and are returning to “normalcy”, but in the mean time all I have been reading are Durham new-resident-guides and one phenomenal collection of essays that may not overtly seem connected to sexuality, but certainly harps on an interpersonal quality that is rarely fully understood, and often qualified as a specifically feminine trait.

Leslie Jamison’s The Empathy Exams, explores the nuance of empathy and how it shapes all of our human interactions. Told through her real life experience as a medical actor, and her own personal interactions with doctors and loved ones, Jamison’s words give body to difficult emotional experiences and impossible to articulate human relationships.

Empathy isn’t just remembering to say ‘that must be really hard’-it’s  figuring out how to bring difficulty into the light so it can be seen at all. Empathy isn’t just listening, it’s asking the questions whose answers need to be listened to. Empathy requires inquiry as much as imagination. Empathy requires knowing you know nothing. Empathy means acknowledging a horizon of context that extends perpetually beyond what you can see: an old woman’s gonorrhea is connected to her guilt is connected to her marriage is connected to her children is connected to the days when she was a child. All this is connected to her domestically stifled mother, in turn, and to her parents’ unbroken marriage; maybe everything traces its roots to her very first period, how it shamed and thrilled her.


-Caterina Gironda, Southern Editor

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