The Empathy Exams

The Empathy Exams

Empathy comes from the Greek empatheia—em (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?

–Leslie Jamison

I’m reading this fantastic book right now for a book club I’m a part of. Leslie Jamison, Brooklyn-based author, writes about her experience as a medical actor who was paid to act out symptoms for medical students to diagnose. Imagining herself into the pain of others, “playing sick” so that medical students can guess her maladies and be examined. These “empathy exams” reveal so much about how each of us throughout life interprets others’ pain and how we want others to interpret ours’.

I love how rawly Jamison confronts the pain (real and imagined, hers and others’) from inexplicable seizures, to crippled rabbits in love, to the sad “half-life” of arguments, and consequently uncovers this urgency in all of us to feel and be felt with.

Her self-awareness is beautiful (might even be the most moving part of her essays to me), and her intelligence about how people respond to pain and how people respond to other people’s pain gripped me…In the best, most necessary way. 

I would highly recommend!

What are you reading right now? Anything you’d recommend?

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