The Empathy Gene

The Empathy Gene

We can’t touch her and yet we can feel her.




















Pundits often remarked on the tears that came so easily to President George H.W. Bush. He often acknowledged them too.

Perhaps because he lost a child, a child he loved so, a child who died so young, that deep well holding his tears was forever after close to over-flowing.

THIS is Barbara, his wife, reading a letter he wrote to his own mother five years after the death of their precious daughter, Robin.

I’m not sure you ever get over the loss of a child, especially one so young.

Anyway, it just seems to me that those who’ve known the pain of real loss, not loss of a job or loss of status, but the overwhelming loss of death of one so loved, are more sensitive to others’ losses.

It’s almost as if our hearts have to be broken to let others’ pain inside.

It’s hard to live your full life without having your heart broken, for some, many times.

But if it makes us more empathetic to the struggles of others, maybe that’s the purpose.

Be kind. Everyone you meet is carrying a heavy burden.”

Be brave enough to share your brokenness.

Not every break, not even every day.

But it can’t ever hurt this persona you have on the air to show your broken heart.

It makes you fully human. It increases the chance that one of those who hear you will have felt something similar, something familiar enough to bond her to you forever.

And today, especially today, your willingness to expose your pain, your heart, your humanness, may help another’s to heal.

It’s so easy now to troll, to criticize, to bully; it’s so easy to be unkind.

Be brave enough to be different.


*Afterword: This was part of historian Jon Meachem’s eulogy at the funeral service for President George H.W. Bush at the National Cathedral in Washington on December 5:

As vice president, Bush once visited a children’s leukemia ward in Krakow. Thirty-five years before, he and Barbara had lost a daughter, Robin, to the disease. In Krakow, a small boy wanted to greet the American vice president. Learning that the child was sick with the cancer that had taken Robin, Bush began to cry.

To his diary later that day, the vice president said this: “My eyes flooded with tears. And behind me was a bank of television cameras. And I thought, ‘I can’t turn around. I can’t dissolve because of personal tragedy in the face of the nurses that give of themselves every day.’ So I stood there looking at this little guy, tears running down my cheek, hoping he wouldn’t see. But if he did, hoping he’d feel that I loved him.”