Justice is Empathy

Change begins with Understanding

From the judges, lawyers, or lawmakers to the missionaries in the jungle, there are some serious heroes out there fighting for justice. The need for justice in our culture can look insurmountable. We are overwhelmed by reports of human trafficking, poverty and genocide. We question what our role is in the justice system. What can we do?

I heard a quote today that got me thinking: “Justice is empathy.”

Screen Shot 2015 05 22 at 1.08.45 PM 300x155 Justice is EmpathyIt really can be that simple, and it can start with you. It can start in your home- with your teen.

Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of others. When I empathize with the struggles of my teen, I am becoming a part of the process of bringing about justice in their world.

Richard Eyre, British Director, states, “Change begins with understanding and understanding begins by identifying oneself with another person: in a word, empathy.”

When my teen acts out, my natural reaction is not to empathize. I immediately divert to becoming angry, threatening, or lecturing. Rarely, do I stop to ask him to explain to me the emotions behind his behaviors. Rarely do I empathize with what he’s feeling.

Maya Angelou asserts, “I think we all have empathy. We may not have enough courage to display it.” Empathizing with my teen can be difficult. Sometimes it’s just hard to see where he’s coming from. Sometimes I fear that if I empathize, I may condone his behavior.

Daniel Goleman, psychologist and author for the New York Times states, “a prerequisite to empathy is simply listening to a person in pain.” Taking the time to listen rather than react in anger or frustration or hurt, opens up my heart to empathize and to see where my teen is coming from. It reminds me that I am for my son, not against him.

I can respond in ways such as, “That must be difficult” or, “That sounds like it’s been a struggle.” In Screen Shot 2015 05 22 at 1.05.36 PM 300x223 Justice is Empathyusing empathizing one-liners, I am opening the conversation to continue. I want my son to be reminded that I am for him, not against him. While I cannot condone his behavior, I can seek to understand and care about what is behind such behavior.

Empathy brings about change by listening to others, identifying with others, and caring about others. Seek empathy in your interactions with your teens as you go through the struggles of adolescence with them. In doing so, you will watch justice in action.

Change is a process

Screen Shot 2015 04 09 at 12.25.11 PM 300x199 Change is a processChange is a process, not an event

Do you ever say, “We have already dealt with this, why is he/she still struggling with this?” As parents we crave growth and change so deeply that once we see it displayed, even once, it is really hard to accept when it isn’t immediately repeated. Seeing behavioral growth might even tempt us to get caught up in the success and bring our teen home prematurely. After all, it is really tough to cover the costs of residential care and live so far away from our kids. It is natural to want them home, especially when we see good things happening. But teens that are required to attend treatment tend to demonstrate improved behavior before they have truly changed on the inside. Much like a cake when it is pulled prematurely out of the heat, it will always flop. Change isn’t about making one good choice when everyone is watching. The true mark of growth is when your teen makes the right choice when no one will know. This type of deep character growth that impacts all future decisions is what you should be seeking. So be patient and move through Shelterwood with purpose rather than with reaction. Your teen might return home with a depth that might surprise you.