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I see more and more the need for me to have more empathy and understanding of others. I find that it is a hard thing to do. I have an easier time understanding you if you think like me, if you have a similar background to me, if you speak my language. The reality is, that no one else comes from the same perspective as I do. I am unique as are you. My husband doesn’t think like me, my daughters don’t think like me, and my sons-in-law are still struggling to figure out how I think. Sometimes I don’t even understand myself!

So, is it any surprise that living in community can sometimes be messy, difficult, and uncomfortable? Recent news both local and national illustrate this point. We see the issues from our own perspective which is arrived at from the information sources we access and from the lens of our education, region, economics, friends, family, and more.

I have been listening to Dan Rather’s book, What Unites Us. A phrase he used caught my attention: “empathy builds community.” I was interested in this idea since, as an organization, The River Center has identified empathy as one of our core values.

It seemed that a good place to start exploring this idea of empathy was to look up the meaning. The American Heritage Dictionary tells us that empathy is “The ability to identify with or understand the perspective, experiences, or motivations of another individual and to comprehend and share another individual’s emotional state.”

How can I identify with another? How can I understand? How can I be empathetic? For me, step one is acknowledging that your perspective, experience and motivations are different than mine and step two is for me to be curious to find out more. Can I ask you questions about your thinking? Can we have a friendly conversation so that I can understand better what you are thinking? Can I lay aside my assumptions and truly listen to what you have to say?

I think of how I see empathy displayed in the staff and volunteers at The River Center. There is an effort at understanding the reality of life of the individuals and families of our community. Not everyone’s family looks the same. Not everyone’s finances are the same. A couple is struggling to connect with their teenager. A new mom is overtired, unsure, and alone. A twenty-something needs their tax return completed and doesn’t know where to start. A concerned neighbor calls because they are concerned about the well-being of their elderly friend. We seek to encourage, support, and help families move forward in the best way for them. For each individual and family this looks different, but the goal is the same. To strengthen the individuals and families of our region.

I am talking to myself when I say I want to be more understanding, more empathetic toward others. Perhaps Dan Rather is on to something. Empathy may help us build better community.

No matter who you are, what your place in life, there is something for you at The River Center Family and Community Resource Center. Parenting education and support for parents and caregivers, help sorting through personal finances or getting your tax return completed, connection to community resources for yourself, your family or your neighbors. Perhaps you are looking for an opportunity to volunteer? We can help you with that as well. Contact us at 924-6800, www.rivercenter.us.

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