Ever been in a position when you needed someone to cover for you? To do something you should have done yourself but, for whatever reason, could not? Of course you have! We all have.
Perhaps you planned to bring a sick friend some soup, but asked someone else to deliver it for you because you got too busy to finish the good deed. Maybe you arranged for someone else to take care of your kids for a while because you were delayed.
In those cases, someone covered for you, which is great, but should you feel bad because you didn’t take care of the task yourself? Or could you allow that you really did take care of it, because you arranged for it to get done? It probably depends on how the person who covered for you approached their task. And it really all comes down to one word: empathy.
Helping each other accomplish what we cannot otherwise accomplish alone is the power of empathy.
What does it mean tell someone, “I’ve got you covered”? To stand in for them? To be, as the philosophers say, their agent? It means that when the agent acts on your behalf, it is as if you did the act yourself, and yes, that is possible.
I know that people are not simply interchangeable, and that each of us has our own unique presence which is truly irreplaceable.? But I also know that we can cover for each other, be there for each other, and help each other accomplish what we cannot otherwise accomplish alone. That’s the power of empathy.
If, when we cover for each other in any given situation, we act not as mere “stand-ins” or placeholders, but as if we’re the one who sent for us – if we take the task at hand as seriously as the sender would, if we treat that sick friend as they would, or care for their kids as they would – then in a very real sense we bring the sender into the room with us, and those friends and/or children can actually feel that they’ve been cared for not only by us, but by the ones who asked us to “cover for them.”
Empathy is the means through which we extend each other’s ability to be present in more places and situations than would otherwise be possible. Empathy is the way we prove that with the right emotion and intention, we can help each other do what’s otherwise impossible, i.e., be two places at one time. How cool is that?
Brad Hirschfield is the co-founder and co-executive editor of The Wisdom Daily. A rabbi, Brad has been featured on ABC’s Nightline UpClose, PBS’s Frontline, Fox News and National Public Radio. He wrote a long-standing column, “For God’s Sake,” for the Washington Post, and has also written for The Huffington Post and Beliefnet.com. He authored the book, You Don?t Have To Be Wrong For Me To Be Right: Finding Faith Without Fanaticism. Brad also serves as President of Clal, The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, a leadership training institute, think tank and resource center in New York City.