The Line Between Empathy and Detachment by Fellow Angie Gomez

The greatest divide is the one we cannot see but the one we can feel. Throughout our lives, we are given tools that shape who  we are, but we are rarely taught how to use these tools in balance. Two of those tools that most resonate with me are empathy and they can so easily be misused so as to lead to mawkishness or callousness. These values can easily lead to being self-centered and not empathizing with anyone else or being taken advantage of and trying to relate your situation where you simply cannot. As a human being, we must realize we are not meant to carry the weight of the world on our own shoulders and should also not take on the burdens of others without discretion. I often realize that I will not empathize the same way with others because I have personally not gone through it and can't possibly feel the same emotions as certain people do due to not having lived through that exact situation. In that moment, I know that it is okay to detach myself from that position. But at what cost?

When is the right moment to empathize with others? When is the right time to unburden others of the weight they carry or to take on their burdens as our own?

I believe the right time to empathize with others is when you could do so without damaging yourself. To feel empathy to a point where you are overwhelmed and paralyzed is an unwinnable battle, and you ought to allow yourself to be a little selfish and recognize your limits. In order to avoid the other extreme of callousness, I suggest being selfless in occasions where there is space to do so or when you have the means to do so without losing the integrity of your health or sanity in the process. A more sustainable world requires people to be more understanding and compassionate but empathy is not a sustainable resource and we must be mindful of its preciousness as we distribute it so generously.


Angie is a senior at Somerset Academy High School and a proud member of Under A Tree's House of Friedan.