Stargirl: Empathy and Compassion

Posted on March 24, 2020


Like most everyone else in the country, I have been hanging out at home for the last week and a half.  Who would have thought that being a responsible citizen would mean not leaving the house unless forced?

On the same day, I saw on TV a news segment on the increase in gun sales since this COVID-19 business started and “Stargirl,” a movie on Disney+.  No spoiler alert here; just suffice to say that the title character in the film (apart from being a little quirky) is exceedingly long on empathy and compassion.  This got me thinking about the ways in which human beings relate to each other.  Do we relate from a place of fear and self-protection or from a place of empathy and compassion?

Don’t get me wrong, some of us human beings are downright dangerous.  We can be a self-centered lot.  We can also be capable to great acts of kindness (even to strangers).  When we are hurt or afraid, we tend to shift toward being more self-focused and less empathic of others.  This is often the state of the marriage when couples come in for therapy.  Each partner becomes so focused on their own pain and fear that they lose compassion and empathy for their partner’s pain.

So I was watching this movie and thinking, “Wow, what would it have been like to have been capable of that much empathy and compassion at that point in my life?”  There is so little gap between how my life is and how I would have it to be, that you hate risking the butterfly effect of changing anything in the past.  At the same time, I can look at some past scenes and wish I had done things differently.  None of seem to reach adulthood without acquiring some emotional wounds.  Sometimes we were the receiver of those wounds and sometime we were the perpetrator.  But I digress.

When I was an intern, my supervisor gave each of us a magic wand when we became licensed.  This was mostly tongue in cheek, implying that once the state of California said you were fit to be licensed, you now had magic healing powers.  I’m not sure where I put that wand, but I don’t think it was working anyway.

If I did have that wand, I could cure most relationship problems by waiving it and endowing my clients with empathy and compassion for each other.  The core of this is 1) I get what is it like to be you, and 2) I care what it is like to be you.  The first is empathy, being able to relate to what it is like to be you.  The second is compassion, having a deep caring for your pain.

Hopefully, as we mature, we become longer on empathy and compassion.  But what if we made a conscious effort to enter into empathy and compassion and let acts of kindness flow from there?  We could all start with our closest relationships and work from there.