• Andrew Woods


“If you look into someone's face long enough, eventually you're going to feel that you're looking at yourself.” Paul Auster

As a kid, I was known to be sensitive. It was a trait that my family recognized in me at a very young age. Sensitivity wasn’t something that I understood growing up… in fact it was generally discouraged in my household. I was taught that it was a dog-eat-dog world, that life was unfair and hard, and that I needed to toughen up in order to thrive as an adult. Naturally, toughening up meant that any display of sensitivity was frowned upon.

So… I tried to be tough.

But there had always been a side to me that was highly attuned to those around me. I could pick up on little things – the slightest hesitancy in my mother’s voice, my dad’s unnaturally forced body language, any hint of uncertainty in my sister’s eyes, the variety of subtle mannerisms in which a stranger’s dishonesty would reveal itself.

But above all, there was an unusual way in which I could sense, and connect with a person’s emotional state. A therapist of mine would later describe this as “feeling things deeply.” And it was then that I learned this peculiar sensitivity I experienced wasn’t something that should be subdued, or neglected, but rather that it was a blessing – something that needed to be nurtured, and encouraged.

Through my own experience in life, I’ve learned that empathy comes easier to certain people than it does for others. Some people are able to embrace their empathic nature as an ability to form genuine human connections. While others might see it as a weakness, something that would inevitably be exploited by the wolves that walk among us.

The truth is, we all experience empathy (the vast majority of us, at least). It isn’t something that is inherently good, or bad. It is simply the way that we, as human beings have evolved. From an evolutionary standpoint at least, empathy, or our ability to connect with one another, has played a role in the survival of our species. As social creatures, going way back to more primitive times, the better we were able to connect with and understand one another, the greater our chances of survival.

So, it’s interesting to see how, in our modern society, an evolutionary trait such as empathy has become demonized in certain social circles. And yet, it is our empathy that makes us so remarkably human…

So why are some of us so quick to denounce our own humanity?

Admittedly, I used to relate to those who feel the need to exhibit a superiority complex. I couldn’t allow myself to be human, because that would mean accepting that I was flawed, that I was fallible, and that I was subject to experiencing pain.

Essentially, to be human would be to accept that I was weak…

But fortunately for me, not everything is as it initially seems.

There’s a quote from a poem by Mary Oliver that illustrates this very important life lesson -

“Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to understand that this too, was a gift.”

Despite years of stubborn resistance and denial, I too would finally learn that the qualities that make me human are the same qualities that bring such joy to my life. The empathy I feel for others is what brings us closer. And those connections are what give my life meaning.

And looking back, I find it almost miraculous that such a realization is even possible. To go from a place of such deeply ingrained fear to being able to sit with a friend, a family member, or even a complete stranger, and allow myself to feel their vulnerability. To allow myself to feel my own vulnerability simultaneously.

To give that precious gift to myself, and to the world around me…

The gift of being human.

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