Jim Williams
May 20, 2024

Empathy is the ability to emotionally understand what other people feel, see things from their point of view and imagine yourself in their place resulting in compassionate behavior.

Getting thru life’s most difficult challenges requires several things, one of the keys in my view is having and giving empathy.

In my experience of leading people and teams I must admit this wasn’t always front of mind for me. When I saw my son go through his cancer treatments, I saw an example of having and giving empathy that I had never wanted to see. He was the kindest, gentlest person to those who were caring for him and to the other children being treated, it was an example that I wanted to live up to then and now.

This blog is focused on a question many have asked me since we lost Kyle to pediatric cancer back in May of 2011. How has your marriage survived? There are several statistics out there that paint a grim picture for those of us who lose a child when it comes to divorce. So, what has kept us together through the worst possible thing, empathy.

Our marriage was a partnership before we even got married and in great partnerships you always look for win/win scenarios. Leslie and I were both clear about what we wanted as a married couple, for our children and our family. When you have a child diagnosed with a life-threatening condition those plans and most everything else wash away. The first wash away in shock and anger, then resentment. You then begin to get you wits about you and begin to accept what has happened and begin to build a new plan, a plan that helps save your child and everything else that you had prior to hearing, for us those fateful words, “your son has cancer”.

In my view mothers and fathers while both parents have different roles. Leslie’s role was well defined based on what she wanted, and we discussed prior to even seriously dating, to forgo working out of the house, instead taking on the most important job of making a wonderful home for our family. This was a great sacrifice for her to make and one I am so very appreciative of. My role was to go and provide for our family. I learned all kinds of lessons as I embarked on that journey, one that I have been on for the entirety of our marriage, 22 years. My career has been filled with many wonderful experiences. As I like to share with those I lead and have led, I believe I did more right than wrong, more good than bad. Now, I certainly had my share of mistakes, missteps and the like but overall, I think we career thus far would be defined as successful.

We have made it thru and work hard every day to continue our journey together. It’s a gift and we work hard to treat it as such. The choices we made could have been different, if

Leslie had wanted a full-time career, I would have found my way to fulfill the role she did. Some might say we chose the “traditional” path, well nothing about our life together could be defined as typical or traditional!

So where does empathy fit and how did it help our marriage survive the worst possible thing as a couple? The simple framework is we let each other grieve how we wanted. We rarely, if ever judged each other for the bad moments, days, weeks, sometimes even months. As I started this blog with, we had the ability to emotionally understand how each of us were feeling, still do. We saw the world through one another’s eyes, not our own. We saw things from each other’s point of view and not only imagined how that felt but put ourselves in each other’s shoes. Now, I am not saying we didn’t have our moments, of frustration, anger of course we did. I think what kept us coming back was this fundamental idea, behavior around empathy.

I want to stress the word behavior when it comes to empathy. It’s what I see as the difference between sympathy and empathy. We had a lot of people feel sorry for us, we had less that turned that sorrow into action, some kind of action! Some of those actions were big, some small, but actions they were. Feeling sorry=Sympathy, doing something based on that feeling=Empathy.

I share these thoughts here, to help at least one person see empathy as tool they can utilize to get thru their biggest challenges, or as I like to say, worst things. Well placed empathy can do wonders for you in your personal and professional life. It’s something I find myself working at each and every day. It can be difficult, especially in our world but like all things you want to get better at, it takes practice. Practice empathy and lead a fuller life.

Catch you on my next blog,