My dad was an orphan who never knew his mum or his dad. He grew up in foster homes and boys’ homes. Despite this, he tried to be the best dad he could be to my sister and me. However, he often missed my birthdays and special events when I was growing up. He would be at a meeting or working interstate. I worked through this, but definitely had some disappointment about it.

Later on in life, when I was about 40, I was having lunch with my dad and I asked him to tell me more about his childhood, growing up without any parents. Somewhere in the conversation he casually noted that he never remembered having a birthday party until after he married my mum. I said, “What?” He had never had anyone throw him a birthday party – for his entire childhood! Suddenly everything changed for me. He had no memory of anyone being there for his special moments and although he never intentionally tried to hurt me, he wasn’t there for many of mine. This realisation didn’t change or excuse what had happened but it did help me understand more about my dad and his story.

Everyone has a story to tell!

I remember hearing a story about a man sitting on a train, reading his newspaper when another man came onto the train and sat right next to him. He slouched and closed his eyes as if to shut out the world. He had two young children with him who proceeded to run around the train, disturbing everyone in sight.

The man couldn’t believe it. Why didn’t this man control his children? Eventually, when his annoyance reached a certain level, he said, “Excuse me, sir, why don’t you stop your kids from running around?”

The man slowly came to and said, “I’m sorry. We just came from the hospital where their mother died. I don’t know what to do and I guess neither do they.”

Talk about a paradigm shift! In a moment, this man’s emotions moved from anger to empathy.

It is so easy to judge. But everyone has a story to tell. Empathy means to stand in someone else’s shoes and see life from their perspective.

In your next conversation with someone, try asking this question: “Help me understand …”

One of the most powerful things you can give another person is the gift of empathy.

This has been Soul Food with Mark Conner. See you next week!

You can watch a video of this episode on the Soul Food YouTube channel.

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