Empathy is something I have grown more and more interested in over the last year. After having your life turned upside down due to dialysis, searching for a donor, then getting a transplant, your views about the world and life change a bit. At least they did for me.
When I was in the depths of kidney failure, living life tethered to a dialysis machine, I wouldn't say that I was tapped into any feelings of empathy. Rather, at times it was quite the opposite. I was in full survival mode and could absolutely only think about myself, the hell I was going through and how to get out of it.
Now that I am over a year post transplant and my mission is solely focused on helping others connected to kidney disease, my empathy meter is to the max. So much so that when I read some of these kidney stories, or even some of the posts I create, I can't help but become extremely emotional. For me, I think it's because I lived a similar experience as the people I read about. Even though no two kidney warrior stories are the same, I understand how difficult dialysis is and the struggle to find a donor and get your life back.
The definition of empathy most commonly known today is:
the willingness to understand an individual's situation, which can in turn create an emotional response and even inspire compassion.
The key piece in that definition is "the willingness the understand." Kidney warriors of course have a willingness to understand each others' stories because they are going through it themselves. You can say the same for pregnant women, people trying to quite smoking, or those trying to lose weight. If you have a common thread, there is a better chance at feeling empathy toward another person's struggles.
The tricky part is reaching people outside those common thread circles.
I watched a documentary film recently about Platon, the British photographer, who has famously taken portraits of many presidents and known world figures as well as documented social issues. Something Platon said has stuck with me. Recalling a memory when he was beaten to the ground and mugged, he said,
"Going through something traumatic and painful and now knowing what it feels to hurt. That is empathy."
So maybe there can be this willingness to understand, or empathy, between kidney patients and non kidney patients if we focus on the bigger picture of someone going through something traumatic and painful.
I think it is safe to say everyone has experienced trauma and pain or hurt in their life at some point. And hopefully with that came the strength and resilience to make it through those difficult times. We are all human. Lets focus on this idea of shared humanity and help those in need, even if they seem at first to have no connection to you. That is my hope with the future of kidney disease and the need for more living kidney donors.
"In 2013, Platon founded a non-profit foundation named The People's Portfolio. The foundation aspires to create a visual language that breaks barriers, expands dignity, fights discrimination, and enlists the public to support human rights around the world."
Below is a selection of Platon's work within The People's Portfolio. All of these individuals have different life stories. However every single person is connected through having the strength and resilience to continue through a traumatic experience. That connection is the foundation of empathy.
** Blog post cover photo from Platon's The People's Portfolio.