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The story is told of a shy Latter-day Saint man who often sat on the back row of the chapel alone. When a member of the elder’s quorum suddenly passed away, the bishop gave priesthood blessings to comfort the elder’s family members. Relief Society sisters brought in food. Well-meaning friends and neighbors visited with the family and said, “Let us know if there is anything we can do to help.”

But when this shy man visited the family later in the day, he rang the doorbell and when the widow answered, he simply said, “I have come to clean your shoes.” In a couple of hours, all the family’s shoes were cleaned and shined in preparation for the funeral. The following Sunday the family of the deceased elder sat by the shy man on the back row.

Here was a man who was able to fill an unmet need. Both they and he were blessed by his empathy-guided ministering.

How Can I Develop Empathy?

Some seem to be blessed with the gift to be able to empathize. But for those who struggle, there is good news. Over the past 30 years, a growing number of researchers have studied empathy. While many of them come at the topic with different approaches, most of them agree that empathy is something that can be learned.2

We can pray for the gift of empathy. In order to improve, it is also helpful to have a better understanding of how empathy works. The following suggestions are generally accepted as basic elements of empathy.3 While these often take place without us even being conscious that they are happening, being aware of them gives us a chance to see opportunities to improve.

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