“The only true voyage of discovery is not to visit other lands but to possess other eyes, to behold the universe through the eyes of another, of a hundred others, to behold the hundred universes that each of them beholds.” ~Marcel Proust, “Remembrance of Things Past”
I read this quote while I was on the metro Sunday morning and as I looked around the packed train car, I thought about how different the world must look through every set of eyes around me. Sometimes we talk about empathy as if it’s a switch we can flip, as if it’s something so easy to attain that anyone could do it. But truthfully, empathy is difficult and constant work, something that takes effort and grace. To have it, we have to give up our own biases. We have to drop our own baggage and put aside our hard-won perspective in the hope of somehow finding a glimmer of understanding, a glimpse into the world through eyes that aren’t our own.
The New York Times article by psychologist Paul Bloom that featured the quote from Proust questioned whether true empathy is ever really possible or if it’s an unachievable pipe dream. I’m fine with it being either. No matter if it’s achievable or not, it’s worth the effort. Even if we fall far short of true understanding, at least the attempt shows that we cared at all. And isn’t that concern what life is all about?