Empathy: The Power of One


Humanity is very interesting.
“To the world you are just one person, but to one person you are the world.”
It is so important to step outside ourselves. I learned this in a big way this week.

There are times that snap you out of your haze of the everyday, to think of others and how they feel.

Public Transit

I was on the train in downtown Boston, commuting home. Over the loud-speaker the conductor said, “There has been a serious medical emergency.” The train was re-routed to another station and we were to catch a shuttle to the next station.

I am coming up on my fourth anniversary with Boston and I have only heard that very sentence once before. That sentence is almost impossible to forget. “A serious medical emergency.” Most commuters know this is code for someone getting hit by a train.

Last time this happened, it was scary and strange to me. I have ridden the train many, many times before and the realization that someone could actually get hit by one was so incredibly scary.

But on top of this eerie feeling, was frustration and confusion.

Because when everyone on a busy train is asked to get off before their stop, they are not happy.

The first time there was a medical emergency, I was like everyone else, frustrated and confused and a bit creeped out.

Today however, I thought of the victim’s family: their mother, their father, their children. To me this is a minor inconvenience in the grand scheme of my life, but to the family, it is a horrific and potentially life changing event.

Everyone has Value

During this experience of getting corralled to the shuttle stop and waiting around for systems to be in place, a quote struck me:

“To the world you are just one person, but to one person you are the world.”

To the world of commuters this was one person whose life ended abruptly, is possible news story. But to one person, or maybe a handful of people, they were the world.

I act as if I know that this person did not survive. This is because, well to be honest I got confirmation via the Boston Globe, but also during my time of waiting I was observing the rescue workers and I could just tell.

They were not rushing around, many rescuers were just standing around waiting.

Once the shuttle bus came, I was sitting next to these college kids. They were light-hearted and joking around, talking about the accident. To my mind, their actions were not giving true respect to the deceased. Others had reactions that were subpar as well, being frustrated and saying that this was the worst thing that happened to them all day.

Empathy: A Life Is A Life

Have we lost our sensitivity to death and the respect for the fragility of life?

Maybe because we are habituated to death, or get so wrapped up in our own lives that we cannot see outside ourselves?

Death, and birth are the corner stones of life. I guess we do experience quite a lot because it is what makes us human. But empathy is what make us human too. “The ability to understand and share feelings of another.” I believe that is what undoubtedly makes us most human.


The first time I experienced a “medical” emergency I was confused but also frustrated. I was frustrated because my 1 ½ hour commute turned into 2 ½ hours.

I was only thinking of myself in that situation, not thinking about the poor person underneath that train, or their family. I know that experience made me think of how fragile life is and it could all be gone in a blink of an eye, but again was I empathetic to that individual person?

Probably not.

But my question was why was this time different? Is it because it was not scary, I knew what to expect? Was it because I was closer to the scene and could see all that was taking place?

Probably so.

Honestly it is hard to be frustrated with the situation when you can see the ambulances and the rescue workers near the stopped train.

Being removed from the situation, as many of us are when we watch the news, catching up on current events, makes a difference in our experience, and what emotions we have.

There have been many times when I am working and commuting in a big city, I feel so small. But it is amazing to think of the crowd of people as individuals who have other individuals caring so much for them all over the world.


Megan P^2