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I discovered a new kind of love the day my first child was born. I felt like I had loved with my whole heart before, but this parent love was different. It was fierce and protective. It was completely unconditional. I had no idea who this baby was going to be, but I loved her immensely anyway. This feeling doubled a few years later when my second child was born. I knew that if I ever had to, I would give my life without hesitation to save theirs. It was overwhelming and scary. It gave me a new appreciation for the love my parents had for me. And, it made me feel connected to parents around the world and throughout history that also felt this same fierce love for their children.
I see it in the measures that parents will take to protect their children and give them a better life. I understand that the mother who is running her children away from tear gas at the border loves her children as much as I love mine. I see the fierce love in other parents’ grief too. The parent who lost their child for lack of healthcare. The parent who buried their child after a school shooting. The parent whose child was poisoned by lead in their drinking water. They all love their children as much as I love mine. Their children are all as important as my own.
These stories have always made me sad, but they devastate me on a whole new level now that I am a parent. It is not so hard to imagine being that parent and feeling that grief. It is not so hard to imagine the desperation that would drive you to give up everything to try to save your child. I understand that the politics of some of these situations can be complex, but when decisions are made with a lack of empathy by people who are unable to view the world from another person’s perspective, we end up with cruel and heartless policies.
“One doesn’t have to operate with great malice to do great harm. The absence of empathy and understanding are sufficient.” – Charles Blow
These children aren’t threats or statistics or line items on a budget. They are the recipient of another parent’s fierce love. Another mother was completely overwhelmed by the intensity of love that she felt for them on the day that they were born. Another parent would trade places in a heartbeat to take away this child’s pain. Another parent would give their own life to have this child back.
We seem to be at a point where some people are choosing to take their fierce love and turn it inward. They try to build a fortress around their child and focus on improving that specific space. They think that another child’s benefit is their child’s loss. They try to make their child’s world better, no matter the impact on others. They can’t seem to appreciate that someone else somewhere else is fiercely loving the other child. That child matters too.
We can choose to turn our fierce love outward, though, and operate with empathy and understanding. We don’t have to view other children as competition for our children. We don’t have to think that helping another child takes away from our child. We can put ourselves in their shoes. We can recognize that making the world better for all children makes our child’s world better too. Empathy is the key to being able to do this.
We can vote for empathy. We can donate for empathy. We can practice empathy. We can teach empathy. Empathy can turn our fierce parental love into a collective power that can change the world.
“Learning to stand in somebody else’s shoes, to see through their eyes, that’s how peace begins. And, it’s up to you to make that happen. Empathy is a quality of character that can change the world.” – Barack Obama