By Galina Borodkina, Support Services Coordinator
We all loosely use the expression “put yourself into somebody else’s shoes” to express the importance of the quality of empathy. But what if you have a different shoe size? How do we actually accomplish this leap from where we stand to where someone else stands?
We expect others to show empathy towards us, and we try to teach our children how to feel and show empathy. But it’s not always easy, especially when the people who most need and seek empathy speak with an accent or don’t speak English at all. What if they look different or wear strange clothing or stand too close to you?
Some of these people are immigrants. Here at HIAS Services at JCS, we call them “New Americans.” At first glance, they are different, and even when we see them again – perhaps in the supermarket or walking in our neighborhood – they are different. They may seem strange, and we wonder about them. We may even feel a little uneasy or scared.
For many people who were born in this country or have been living here for a long time, it’s hard to imagine the hardships that recent immigrants go through and the challenges they face. Why did they come here? What are they looking for? Perhaps they seek the same things the first Pilgrims wanted: freedom, a better destiny, opportunities for their children.
The United States of America is a unique country. We are a nation of immigrants. Let’s not forget that our own grandparents or great-grandparents were immigrants. We refer to the famous metaphors of the USA as a “melting pot” or a “tossed salad,” but we are still one entity, one nation: the American people.
What can we do to reach out to people who are new and different?
- I believe empathy should be cultivated and practiced. We all want to be accepted and respected, but is it not a two-way street? By being empathetic towards others (those with or without an accent), we would have the right to expect the same towards ourselves.
- Keep trying to overcome stereotypes and distrust of those who are different.
- Let’s start with the simplest things. You can give someone a friendly, encouraging smile when you see how he is in a situation where he is struggling in a language that is foreign to him, such as going through the check-out line in a store. While dropping your children off at school, you could start a small conversation with another parent.
- You also can benefit. You could make a new friend, someone who has a lot to give. By going a little out of your “comfort zone,” this new connection can enrich your life.
Empathy is being able to understand the position of another person. It’s also the realization that we also could be in his or her shoes, if the time and place were different.
Remember what the Bible says? “You too must befriend the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”* Let’s welcome the strangers among us and be open to “where they are coming from.”
*(Deuteronomy, chapter 10, verse 19)
By Galina Borodkina, Support Services Coordinator, with Gail Lipsitz, Jewish Community Services, Baltimore, MD
To learn more about how JCS can help you solve life’s puzzles, visit www.jcsbaltimore.org or call 410-466-9200. Jewish Community Services is an agency of THE ASSOCIATED: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore.