Thoughts on empathy, mental health and David Foster Wallace

During a deadly pandemic, in the midst of a college education ultimately aimed at improving our own fortunes on a particular career path, how do we remain empathetic to the struggles of others? Our “default” setting often leads us to be consumed in our own school day, work-day, practice or performance, our own busy day. True awareness and attentiveness to the lives of others around us therefore takes focus and effort, but that is what allows us to care – and not just for our friends and family, but also for acquaintances and even strangers.

These are just some of the thoughts that Foster Wallace alludes to in “This is Water” that can help us reach our full potential as higher thinkers and as human beings. As busy college students fighting to keep up our mental health in these uncertain times, it is pivotal that we not forget to seek empathy for those who may be struggling in the same ways we are, or worse. Compassion is what will truly get us through this semester, this collegiate experience, and what is waiting for us in life after graduation.

One way to show compassion is to devote time as a volunteer in any number of roles. At present, there are plenty of ways to help organizations or communities in the Greensboro area who need it. Anyone looking to volunteer can visit VolunteerMatch to browse opportunities.

The One Step Further Community Support & Nutrition Program, located at First Christian Church in Greensboro, is one organization that will certainly welcome volunteers from our community, and any interested students can sign up directly here.

While volunteerism is significant in its own way, the truth is that the freedom of spare time or money is not necessary to lead a life of empathy. As Foster Wallace emphasizes, it is all about “being able to truly care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over.”

As our campus is now buzzing with a variety of student activities, sports and events, it is so crucial for us to preserve our own mental health and that of our peers. If we value and act on the freedoms of awareness and empathy, meaningful life experiences are sure to follow.

You can hear David Foster Wallace’s full 2005 Kenyon College commencement address, “This is Water.”

By Carlin Uhlir

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