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Roads, Loads and Empathy

Updated: Oct 23, 2023

Always in the car is when I have my best thoughts. I chat with myself all the way to wherever I’m going, wishing I could jot down the gems that seem to love to light up my neurons while I can’t reach the pen and paper. Same happens in the shower.

Today I was hurtling along a motorway in very hilly bushy terrain, weaving back and forth between lanes as I passed trucks and other laden vehicles on the uphill, only to have them pass me on the downhill once the crest was conquered. Repeat. Patchy rain and fog too.

I caught myself not only focusing on my own motoring moves, but on the moves of the motorists around me, anticipating what they might need too, feeling anxious should I inconvenience or block them in some way, being considerate of ways I can make it easier for them. And then I remembered that I have equal rights on the road. And just like everyone else, I have a responsibility to maintain control of my own vehicle only, abide by the rules of the road, anticipate only what I need to in order to maintain safety, indicate and move only when it is safe to do so. And all of this for my own sake as much as anyone else’s. I am equal. The road is mine as much as it is theirs.

I ask myself why I feel the need to subjugate myself to the needs of those around me, not only other motorists in this case, but others around me in general? Why do I feel I need to get out of the way so others are not hindered in any way? Why are their needs more important than mine? Why do I feel compelled to meet or accommodate the needs and preferences of others above my own? Why do I catch myself apologising frequently, as though I even need to justify my presence? When did those feelings start? Why do I still have these feelings of low self-worth and inferiority after years of gaining knowledge, regular therapy, lots of self-talk and even providing support for others?

I am an empath. Acutely aware of the feelings of others, feeling them myself. True empathy includes appropriate action. It’s not enough to just feel it, the need compels a response. From an empath especially. And somehow I’ve taken to heart the message that I exist only for the care or benefit of others. So it’s a compulsion. And a self-worth issue. My purpose is for others.

Even the Bible says to do good to others if it is in the power of your hand to do so. Nothing like throwing in a bit of Scripture to reinforce good Christian behaviour. And cement the compulsion. And reinforce my purpose.

But where’s the line? I often find myself coming back to the “fine lines”. What needs do I respond to? Where does my responsibility lie? How far do I go? Is my life to be only about anticipating and facilitating the needs of those around me? Who cares for my needs?

Another little bit of Scripture brings balance to my thoughts, and reason to ease my compulsion. We are to “bear each other’s burdens” but “carry our own load”. Burdens make us weary and discouraged, they are difficult to endure – it would make sense to care and help each other in times like that. But what is the “load” each of us is to carry? Perhaps it’s that which we should take responsibility for – the load of our own life and function. I’m ok with that. And I’m ok with caring for others and helping them when their burden is too heavy.

But I must not make the responsibilities of another become a burden that I carry. That is for them to carry, as I must carry my own.

And so, on the road as with anywhere else I find myself, I am to take responsibility for my own vehicle, my own life, my “load”. But be ready to care and respond “in word and deed” when another is discouraged and weighed down by burdens that are too much for them to carry alone.

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