Editor's note: The phrase "to see through another's eyes" has a long history as an image of what empathy means. But have you ever thought of empathy as the most essential quality of civilization? As an inner necessity? As one of the most overlooked elements of love? These quotes bring a multi-dimensional view of empathy into focus.

But before diving into them, you may want to view this beautiful gallery of 12 Empathy memes as an introduction to this heart-deepening subject.


Almost Becoming Another
"Only if you can put yourself entirely in the other person's place, almost to become the other person for a moment, can you begin to understand and appreciate the forces and pressures to which he was subjected."
— Irving Bunim in A Code of Jewish Ethics by Joseph Telushkin

Awareness of Many Worlds
"Empathy recognizes that there is not one world, but many worlds. We differ, our worlds of assumptions differ, and it's through the differences, not the similarities, that we come to appreciate our real humanity. … Empathy enters the other's world as a guest. It does not forget the manners of the guest/host relationship. In the museum of another's memories, one must be even more gentle and respectful than when visiting one's own. Reverence for the sacredness of your own memories and secrets is self-compassion. Compassion for another is a similar reverence for the sanctity of another's soul."
— David W. Augsburger in Hate-Work

A Bearing of Each Other's Pain
"We all participate in this terrible, hopeful, dreadful, glorious experience that is life. How wonderful it would be if only we would all know this — not with the reserve of the one who stands on the sidelines, but with the passion of the ones who have walked the dusty streets, bearing, as the Sufis say, that portion of the world's pain that has been entrusted to their care."
— Erik Kolbell in Were You There?

A Bridge
"The empathetic person becomes a bridge, and a bridge is meant to be walked on."
— David W. Augsburger in Hate-Work

"I believe empathy is the most essential quality of civilization."
— Roger Ebert in Frederic Brussat's Twitter Collection

The Desire to Relieve Another's Grief
"Can I see another's woe
And not be in sorrow too?
Can I see another's grief
And not seek for kind relief?"
— William Blake in Zen and the Art of Making a Living by Laurence G. Boldt

The Ears of the Heart
"Beloved of God, your heart has ears, and they are divine ears when you feel the people's cries of pain. That is part of being one with God. When you are one with God, you suffer God's pain in seeing those you love suffer. You feel the pain of a sick society suffering injustice, as well as personal sicknesses. The depth of your compassion and prayer not only opens the ears of your heart but opens you to the power to heal."
— Edward Hays in The Gospel of Gabriel

Experiencing with Others
"When a friend tells us her sister has fallen seriously ill, we feel heart stricken. We can imagine the anxiety she must feel in the pit of her stomach; we can sense her helplessness at being unable to take a loved one's pain away. When she announces that the doctors say her sister will be well again, we rejoice at her news."
— Marc Ian Barasch in Field Notes on the Compassionate Life

The Foundation for All Genuine Relationship
" 'Perhaps the most important skill that should be taught to all persons,' says Wilson Van Dusen, 'is the capacity to really see, hear, and understand others. Such a skill if useful in dealing with everyone — friends, relatives, strangers.' The capacity to really listen, to put aside our own concerns for the moment, to feel or imagine ourselves in the world of another person and then to communicate our empathetic understanding to that person in such a way that he or she feels heard and understood is the foundation for all genuine relationship and solidarity between human beings."
— John Neafsey in A Sacred Voice Is Calling

A Fruit of Patience
"Patience gives us the ability to put up graciously with obstacles in our path, to respond to life's challenges with courage, strength, and optimism. … Patience in the form of acceptance also allows us to have empathy for others, because we recognize that as human beings, we all have limitations. It gives us the emotional resilience to respond with kindness, to feel compassion."
— M. J. Ryan in The Power of Patience

A Hope that Humanity Can Never Be Forgotten
"It is part of the way of peace to be freshly hurt each time humanity is betrayed. Apathy, in the form of emotional numbness, must be healed in order for this to happen. Just as with victims of extreme domestic abuse, an emotional body that has been scarred through war can persist in a state of hopelessness. You and I were not present during the slaughter in Cambodia or Rwanda, but our emotional bodies give those events a presence inside ourselves. 'If you do it unto the least, you do it unto me,' is the guiding principle here. Hope enters as a healing tool to say that humanity can be betrayed but never forgotten. Hope is the hand that reaches out to say, I feel who you are and what is happening to you."
— Deepak Chopra in Peace Is the Way

The Impetus for Change
"Empathy is the starting point for creating a community and taking action. It's the impetus for creating change."
— Max Carver in Frederic Brussat's Twitter Collection

An Inner Necessity
"Empathy is not a behavior; it's an inner necessity. It isn't necessary to speak to other people or to agree with them or to cheer them up or to spend more time with them. But it is necessary to identify with them, to love them as myself. If I can identify with my pets and plants, I can certainly identify with other human beings. I know what it's like to feel understood."
— Hugh Prather in Morning Notes

An I-Thou Relationship
"Still, it is one thing to feel for someone else; it is another to, in some sense, become them. Is it possible to take this exchange too far — merging with another at the expense of our own authentic self-hood or the possibility of a genuine relationship? Martin Buber refused to use the word empathy because he objected to any connotation that the self could — or should — become lost in the experience of the other. 'A great relation exists only between real persons,' he wrote, 'one must truly be able to say I in order to know the mystery of the Thou in its whole truth.' "
— Marc Ian Barasch in Field Notes on the Compassionate Life

Knowing How to Respect Another's Pain
"Knowing how to respect another person's pain and his moment means being able to discern when it is time to calm him, comfort him, counsel him, or proffer solidarity. This is what a Yiddish saying calls 'knowing what's happening in the other guy's belly.' "
— Nilton Bonder in The Kabbalah of Envy

At Least as Possible as a Moonwalk
"If we can get man to the moon, we can get man to walk in each other's shoes."
— Mary Gordon in Roots of Empathy

Listening to Someone's Pain
"Empathetic presence involves listening to someone's pain with what I call the five A's: attention, acceptance, appreciation, affection, and allowing."
— David Richo in The Five Things We Cannot Change

Looking through Each Other's Eyes
"What distant and different beings in the various mansions of the universe are contemplating the same one at the same moment! Nature and human life are as various as our several constitutions. Who shall say what prospect life offers to another? Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other's eyes for an instant?"
— Henry David Thoreau in Writing from the Center by Scott Russell Sanders

The Most Revolutionary Emotion
"I want us to organize, to tell personal stories that create empathy, which is the most revolutionary emotion."
— Gloria Steinem in Frederic Brussat's Twitter Collection

A Necessity for the Human Narrative
"We ought to rethink the human narrative and prepare the groundwork for an empathetic civilization."
— Jeremy Rifkin in Frederic Brussat's Twitter Collection

One of the Most Overlooked Elements of Love
"Empathy is one of the most overlooked and misunderstood elements of love and is often confused with its cousins — sympathy and compassion. But where sympathy is a warm feeling of a shared vibrational frequency, and compassion is an ardent feeling of solidarity in suffering, empathy is deliberately cool."
— Sam Keen in To Love and Be Loved

Putting Yourself in Your Partner's Shoes
"What would it be like to be your partner who has to deal with you on a daily basis? What does she (or he) see when she first looks at you each morning? What household habits does she find most annoying? How do you think she feels when you read the newspaper while you are having breakfast and she is talking to you? How much time has she spent waiting for you because you were late during the past month? How many times has she been criticized by you? How many hours has she listened to you complain about your work or your family or your health? How close can you come to putting yourself in her shoes, to understanding her frustration and fear, to seeing yourself through her eyes?"
— Gregg Krech in Naikan

A Recognition of Connectedness
"Near-death experiencers expand so greatly in knowledge and empathy that they are able to see the world as an interconnected web to which they are inextricably bound. It is this recognition of their connectedness to creation that reminds them that they are responsible for far more than themselves."
— Phillip L. Berman in The Journey Home

Seeing Yourself in Others
"See yourself in others
Then whom can you hurt?
What harm can you do?"
— The Buddha in Field Notes on the Compassionate Life by Marc Ian Barasch

Setting Aside Your Own Storyline
"In one study of empathy, a psychologist asked a precocious eight-year-old named Adam: 'If you knew how someone else felt, would you be more likely to help them than if you didn't?'

" 'Oh, yes,' Adam answered. 'What you do is, you forget everything else that's in your head, and then you make your mind into their mind. Then you know how they're feeling, so you know how to help them.'

" 'Some kids can't do that,' he added, 'because they think everybody's always thinking the same things.'

"I doubt many adults could articulate it as well. First, Adam says, you have to forget yourself, set aside your own storyline. Then you need to pay a special form of attention to another person, intuiting their thoughts and feelings as if from the inside out. (Adam stipulates that some people can't do this because they assume the other viewpoint is exactly like their own.) Only then can you know how to ease their heart."
— Marc Ian Barasch in Field Notes on the Compassionate Life

A Sharing of Experience
"What happens to another, whether it be a joy or a sorrow, happens to you."
— Meister Eckhart in Confessions by Matthew Fox

A Sign of Being Humane
"I have empathy; I am humane. I understand human misery."
— Marion Marechal Le-Pen in Frederic Brussat's Twitter Collection

Sorely Lacking
"Why don't more of us try consciously to elevate our lives? That's a question that interests me. Laziness? Fear? It seems to me that we are in the midst of a crisis of empathy. We lack empathy for other species, other cultures, other peoples. This isn't very grown-up of us."
— John Hay in The Prophet of Dry Hill by David Gessner