Thick skinned apathy or thin skinned empathy? Ha, you thought this was a post about weight, didn’t you? Only in a metaphorical sense. We hear a lot about thick vs. thin skin and it is even somewhat of a mantra in many households. Parents tell their kids they better get it or life will be just so much harder to survive. Companies tell their employees to not be so sensitive about rejection or what anyone else says. Thin skinned people seem to be perceived as weak and too fragile to deal with real life. And then there’s sensitivity training for those who have built the proverbial thick skin they were chastised for not having in the first place and then expect everyone else to have the same rhino-esque qualities. A bit confusing, isn’t it? I say rhino-esque because it’s exactly what I envisioned as a small child when I heard someone tell me I’d better grow a thick skin pretty darn quick if I wanted to survive in this world. I was so confused and as usual, my visual brain waltzed away on a safari of vivid images depicting what I would look like once I had gained this as of yet, undiscovered “thick skin”. Since I was in Africa at the time, and studied, exhaustively, all the amazing animals I saw on our adventures to Kruger Park, I pictured myself as that skittish antelope, the Impala. Attentive to everything and yet still, probably destined to be eaten, I slowly developed the deep gray wrinkly skin of a rhinoceros which then impeded my movement and speech, as I also saw myself growing heavier and slower, cumbersome even. I remember thinking I would then not care about anything anymore and just ram right through any situation I didn’t directly care about using my new found strength and impenetrable hide. Did I mention I have a highly overdeveloped sense of imagination?
I also remember as soon as I had fashioned that vision in my head, I completely rejected it! I didn’t want that level of apathy at all. I cared deeply for people and I still do today, whether they be rhinos or antelope! It’s caused a lot of pain and welcomed an unbelievable amount of joy. I couldn’t have explained it as well back then but, there was always an innate awareness in me of how others felt around me and how my choice of actions would affect them. It’s a slippery tightrope of empathy and codependency, and it’s not easy to walk, even now. I judge others, I have been through life experiences that left me raw and trying my best to build walls against anyone else wanting to know me past the acquaintance phase. I stay tender only through my faith. Ephesians 4:31 and 32 keep me coming back to a more humble light. “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” I find it the hardest to let go of the bitterness when I especially feel I’ve been wronged and deserve to hold on to that anger! I need that reminder all the time and I need to pursue that all the time. What keeps you grounded? Where do you go for reminders of who you want to be when you aren’t sure who you are? If you can’t answer this question in under a minute, I encourage you to take a deep breath and take whatever time you need to pursue a different path.