Knowing You Know Nothing

Empathy isn’t measured just by checklist item 31—“Voiced empathy for my situation/problem”—but by every item that gauges how thoroughly my experience has been imagined. Empathy isn’t just remembering to say That must really be hard, it’s figuring out how to bring difficulty into the light so it can be seen at all. Empathy isn’t just listening, it’s asking the questions whose answers need to be listened to. Empathy requires inquiry as much as imagination. Empathy requires knowing you know nothing. Empathy means acknowledging a horizon of context that extends perpetually beyond what you can see...

Empathy means realizing no trauma has discrete edges. Trauma bleeds. Out of wounds and across boundaries...

Empathy comes from the Greek empatheiaem (“into”) and pathos (“feeling”)—a penetration, a kind of travel. It suggests you enter another person’s pain as you’d enter another country, through immigration and customs, border-crossing by way of query: What grows where you are? What are the laws? What animals graze there?


Jamison, L. (2014). The empathy exams: Essays. Minneapolis: Graywolf Press. (publisher, library)