"With very few exceptions, all of us have the ability to be empathic with the experiences of others. It's what I referred to earlier when I talked about God's fingerprint on the child's upper lip. This is the secret wisdom that God imparted to each child. Empathy could be considered part of divine inspiration. After all, that is the cornerstone of what Jesus and the Buddha preached, not to mention all of the other great thinkers and religious leaders. These injunctions 'welcome the stranger,' 'care for the suffering,' 'feed the hungry' come not only from without but also from within. Our species could not have survived without caring for one another. We are social animals, and we live and die in community. And when we find ourselves without community and without compassion, our life expectancy is dramatically lower.
"Without empathy, we might be able to function for a while, but it would come at a very steep price. We are already seeing it in today's fast-paced culture where the bottom line is more about profit and productivity and less about care and compassion. And the price we pay is that more people are taking antidepressants than ever before and more of us report having fewer intimate friends. There is ample research to show the health effects of isolation on the aging population as they become more likely to fall ill and less likely to seek medical help. But even younger people who are isolated feel its effects on their health. They are more likely to react to stressful situations with passivity they are more at risk for hypertension and even demonstrate slower wound healing than children with social connections.
"I know there are millions of ways the power of empathy can be drummed out of us, or subverted, or discouraged. But still, throughout human history, when someone has fallen down, usually someone else has picked him up again. Why do we help each other? Because it's our way of making contact with others and ultimately with ourselves. Because it is a heartfelt longing and an evolutionary imperative. That is why we connect with another person's needs. And that is how a four-year-old boy, still struggling for words, can find a way to ask about his mother's pain."