Leading with Empathy, even when we disagree
Updated: Nov 2, 2021
Leading with Empathy (even when we disagree)
In a world that seems more fractured, it feels like as people groups, we have never been more divided. I’ve only been alive for less than 40 years, so my perspective is incredibly short, but our country and world seem to be more at odds that has only accelerated in recent years. Even the Church, which is the Body of Christ, has been having disagreements about so many topics.
If I were to ask a question about a controversial, charged topic, such as abortion, vaccines, or which political party has the right answers, I’d get some varying (but likely very strong) opinions from within the Church depending on where they live and who they support. That is fine as I don’t think Jesus’ goal was to make all of his followers become exactly the same. He summed up the entire law and the prophets as, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind…and Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37-40). That is our purpose. Of course we will have disagreements and conflicts, but we as a body should be known for loving God and loving our neighbors—which is anyone around us.
Lately, I’ve found myself less than empathetic when I come across people who don’t believe in the same things I do. I’ve found it rather easy to vilify someone because they “don’t get it” or I think I am right and they are wrong, and justify that Jesus would have seen it the way I see it. There is a phrase in leadership training that has been thrown around a lot lately, which is: “Lead with empathy.”
Empathy is defined as “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.” If someone is to be empathetic, he or she must be able to relate to another as if they shared the same experience or background. As a church, if Jesus calls us to love God and love our neighbor, we should be the first ones to empathize with those around us, even if they think differently than we do. We should be known for relating to those with different backgrounds, experiences and opinions than our own. And we certainly shouldn’t allow disagreements to fracture what is meant to be unity amongst the unified Body of Christ.
Jesus’ disciples came from all walks of life and very different backgrounds. Matthew was a tax collector, viewed as one of the most deceitful jobs at the time, working with Romans to collect excessive taxes on Jews (while taking a big cut for himself). Simon was a Zealot, who hated the Roman government, and were known for advocating violence against Roman soldiers and officials. Yet Jesus brought Matthew and Simon, and the entire 12 apostles together in love (“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:35). Jesus is a unifier, but it doesn’t mean that everyone should become just like each other. Rather, as we know and experience Jesus and His Kingdom more, we live more fully into the version of our truest self, the one HE created us to authentically be. This best version of ourself manifests itself by being a light to a dark world through LOVING others.
Even though there is an enemy working to sow discord and disagreement, my hope and prayer is that I’ll be able to “lead with empathy” even when I encounter people who share different views, beliefs or experiences than my own. I also hope that I can recognize that the Body is actually stronger by having different parts with people who don’t look like me, vote like me, or have the same background or opinions that I do. After all, Jesus is the Great Unifier and we are all a work-in-progress being transformed by His love.