The True Meaning of Empathy

Enchanted Air is a poetic memoir published by Margarita Engle on 8th February, 2016. In this book, which won the Pura Belpré Author Award, was a YALSA Nonfiction Finalist, and was named a Walter Dean Myers Award Honoree, acclaimed author Margarita Engle tells of growing up as a child of two cultures during the Cold War.

The book presents multiple themes throughout its course, however, I believe the most present message is that empathy is key to critical development of any kind. As Engle describes her childhood, the topic of empathy arises multiple times, displaying its importance. As Engle’s mother is Cuban, Engle experiences discrimination and verbal abuse from both her teachers and her fellow peers. This affects Engle greatly, as she is unable to connect or develop friendships with other students.
“At school, all the teachers and students
seem angered by Cuba.
WHAT ARE YOU?
they ask.” (Engle, 63)
This stanza displays the discrimination experienced by Engle during the Cold War, as well the fact that everyone is prone to making assumptions based simply on racial background and upbringing; a disturbing but accurate rendition of human behavior.
“Do I have to admit
that I’m half Cuban and half American,
or should I go even further, and explain.” (Engle, 63)
The stanza above displays that Engle begins to question her identity, her true self, and who she is as a person. It displays the severe effect of disdain towards another, and highlights the importance of empathy to critical personal development. According to BrightSparks, understanding oneself allows to further develop upon ones skills as well as to improve upon ones weaknesses. Without a distinct understanding of personal identity, development of oneself is impossible.
The true theme and topic of the story however, is best displayed with the following stanza:
“Is there any way that two people
from faraway places
can ever really understand
each other’s
daydreams?” (Engle, 153)
The stanza best exemplifies the true meaning of empathy: The ability to understand another. I personally have lived in multiple countries such as Switzerland, the United States, India, and now China, and I do fundamentally believe that the ability to empathize and understand other cultures is the most important skill when it comes to building new friendships.
In conclusion, without empathy, critical development of any kind is not possible, whether it be the development of oneself, the development of friendships, or even the development of international relations.

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