In the dozens of short stories and poems I wrote as an undergrad, the only idea I still remember was a line about how every one of us feels the same things—we just don't feel them at the same time.
So when you're sad, I'm happy. And when I'm scared and lonely, you're flying high and surrounded by friends. And when I'm good, I don't want to eat your bad. And when I'm bad, I avoid you and your fucking good. But we both have been in each other's shoes.
Empathy doesn't require imagination. Usually, it only requires memory, and a willingness to use it.
Jesse Jackson, Jr. is no one I've ever cared about. He has always seemed like something of a hack to me, and public officials do and should get less leeway than private citizens with unexplained absences or erratic behavior.
Yet, to mock someone's mental trouble—which has proven more than tempting for scandal-scarred Chicagoans and political pundits around the nation—is to willfully refuse to remember the last time you got uncomfortably in touch with your own psychological vulnerability. The last time you noticed just how elaborately, haphazardly, nervously, creatively, tenuously, the boat you sail on an even keel has been slapped, glued, nailed, taped, strung, clamped and bungeed together.
One gust of wind from a new direction ....
It's not sympathy with which we should temper our suspicion, but empathy that we must go out of our way to feel, just on the odd chance that this is a human being who feels the same things that you do—just not at the same time.