My grandmother’s best friend had an adventure at the dentist’s office last week.
After her check-up, she walked out to the parking lot to discover she could not get into her car.
Someone had parked so close to her vehicle she couldn’t open the driver’s side door.
After contemplating the problem, my grandma’s friend went back into the dentist’s office.
“I can’t get into my car,” she explained to the staff at the desk, “and I’m not sure what to do.”
“That’s an easy fix,” the dentist said. “Open up the passenger side door and then crawl over to the driver’s side. Piece of cake.”
My grandma’s friend, who is in her 80s and has arthritis in both hips, stared at him.
The dentist — a young, fit, family man — reconsidered his suggestion.
“Or,” he said after thinking it over, “I’ll see what I can do.”
A few minutes later, the dentist had unlocked the passenger-side door, shimmied across the seat into the driver’s side, and backed up the car. He got out and held the door so my grandmother’s friend could get in.
They had a laugh.
She adjusted the driver’s seat, made herself comfortable, and drove off to the rest of her day.
The incident left me thinking about the importance of empathy, and how it relates to serving others. It’s easy to offer a quick opinion or suggestion, but that’s often not helpful.
Emotion researchers talk about “empathy” as the ability to imagine what someone else might be feeling.
With harried, overscheduled lives, slowing down to consider someone else’s perspective may not be intuitive. When we’re really pressed for time, we make pithy suggestions of what other people ought to do, or platitudes explaining how their problem is not real.
But a little empathy would do better at reducing angst and heartache in the world—followed by some action. Doing something to help is better than just talking about it—but action without empathy can feel like being bulldozed, not loved.
The Book of Matthew describes the Savior lovingly helping at every opportunity, and urging his disciples to do the same.
“Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people.
“But when he saw the multitudes, he was moved with compassion on them … “Then saith he unto his disciples, the harvest truly is plenteous, but the labourers are few.”
There are endless opportunities to serve as the Savior did, both in official capacities and in our everyday interactions — and He says there’s always more to be done.
When you’re truly seeing other people with empathy, you’ll see chances to help everywhere you look.
Even in a parking lot.