Lexington, Va., based author, Lauren Casper, hopes that her new book, “Loving Well in a Broken World: Discover the Hidden Power of Empathy,” will help others learn how empathy can be turned into strength and make the world a better place.
Casper began her writing career with a blog. When the blog took off, she turned her focus to books, particularly inspirational books. Her second and most recent book, “Loving Well in a Broken World,” was released in February.
“It’s about why empathy is such a critical piece of living, and being in community with one another,” Casper said of her latest book.
Although she is writing primarily from a Christian perspective, Casper said that being empathetic and learning to be kind to others is a common trait that all humans, regardless of faith or not, would do well to have.
“For Christians, it would be the command to ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ In common language, we call it the Golden Rule. Treat others as you would want to be treated. That’s really the basis for the book: How do we do that? What does that look like, practically speaking? It sounds good, but in a very complicated context, in the world we find ourselves in today, that can be really tricky to know how to do that in any given situation,” Casper said. “In the book, I go through why [empathy] is so important; how empathy guides us in different ways; and, for those who don’t find themselves to be naturally empathetic people, how we can cultivate empathy to then extend outreach to others.”
Much of Casper’s inspiration for “Loving Well in a Broken World” stemmed from her own life experiences.
“I was always a very sensitive child, and have grown into a fairly sensitive adult,” Casper said. “I viewed that, for a long time, as a weakness and something I did not like about myself.”
With a tendency to “carry the weight of the world” with her upon hearing bad news, whether world news or in her personal life, Casper said she struggled with absorbing these intense emotions.
“When I was in fifth grade, the Oklahoma City bombing happened. That stands out in my mind as a really pivotal moment in my childhood, because I absorbed all the stories I was hearing — the visuals of what everyone was describing — and it got me so upset, I ended up needing to go to the nurse’s office,” Casper recalled. “My mom came to the school to come talk with me, and kind of work through some of those feelings with me. For a long time, I really hated that about myself because it felt really hard. I thought I was weak in some way, that I just couldn’t handle the bad things, or the heavier pieces of life.”
It was not until adulthood that Casper realized what she had for so long viewed as a weakness could actually be one of her greatest strengths.
“The ability to put yourself in somebody else’s shoes, and understand their pain, and then what that might feel like gives a greater ability to then join them in that pain and love them in it, which is something that we all need,” she said.
Casper addresses how individuals can handle their feelings by directing them in healthy ways, particularly if they share her trait of absorbing the emotions of others and getting weighed down by them.
“It’s important to cultivate healthy relationships with others,” Casper said. “And just the gift of vulnerability, too. Being vulnerable with our friends; being open and honest. I haven’t always done that when I’ve been going through hard things in my own life. It tends to all pile up if you’re carrying our own and absorbing everyone else’s. But if we have people that we can be honest and share our hard things with, it does two things. One, it helps us have a release and be supported. Two, on the other side of that, it invites other people to feel safe being vulnerable and open about their struggles in life.”
There are others to whom empathy does not come so naturally, too, Casper added. Her book includes messages for them as well.
“When we’re met with a situation that we don’t understand, or a reaction from a person that initially doesn’t make sense to us, or that we pre-judge as over the top, or inappropriate, or make a snap judgment about what their life must be like, or what kind of person they must be… if we can just stop and say, ‘What if?’” she said. “Ask, ‘What if this person who just cut me off in traffic is on the way to the hospital to see a really sick family member? What if this person who was rude to me in the store is a mom who got three hours of sleep last night because her child was up multiple times?’ Instead of perpetuating cycles of unkind behavior to one another, we are stopping that cycle by giving people the benefit of the doubt, and asking ourselves ‘What if?’ and how would I want to be treated in that situation?”
Though readers will individually take away different highlights and messages from her book, Casper hopes that one common take-away will be that readers will “walk away with a desire to look deeper than what first meets the eye.”
“If everybody just walked away with the reminder to ask themselves ‘What if?’ in any given situation, I think that could make a huge difference in the world,” she said.