Exceptional Empathy


In our lives we have numerous “light bulbs” that go off in various moments. For us at Camp Allen that light bulb moment is when staff finally “get it.” For as long as I have been at Camp Allen the term “getting it” has been used as a term to describe the moment when staff realize that what they are doing here is not simply a job, but something far more important. “Getting it” has never really been properly defined, to most who have had that moment it is seen as just a light bulb. I think that term can now be described as a moment of exceptional empathy.

My favorite word and least favorite word are often mistaken for one another. To me, sympathy is the worst word in the dictionary. The definition of sympathy is as follows, “feelings of pity and sorrow for someone else’s misfortune.” When working with people with disabilities, feeling sympathetic will force you to focus on one’s disability, blinding you to one’s ability. In contrast, empathy, “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another” is incredibly important in working with people with disabilities. Empathy will allow you to understand the daily struggles and then focus on how exceptional a person really is for who they are. What people can do is far more important than what they cannot do.

When we train staff to review a camper’s application, we often say that the least important information is their diagnosis. When we talk about campers before they arrive at Camp that rarely comes into account. We are more interested in what makes them exceptional. Clyde’s exceptional sense of humor makes us laugh. Jackie’s kindness makes even the most nervous of her fellow campers to feel comfortable. This information is far more important than their disability. The disability is certainly a part of who they are but it is not who they are.

We all should have known this all along. We love our campers because of their exceptionalities. “Getting it” is just loving how awesome someone is for being themselves. Being incredibly idealistic, I believe that the more people that are able to think this way, the better the outcome for people with disabilities is in the future. With this train of thought, no one would be excluded from school, employment, and in social activities. You cannot train someone to have this moment of exceptional empathy, they have to have it for themselves, but it is my hope that we certainly can lead them in that direction.

As always, thank you for taking the time to read this, and if you have any questions or comments please let me know. Hope all is well,

Michael

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