Long ago, I read Martin Buber’s I and Thou. I’ve forgotten most of it, but some of what I’m about to say probably came out of that in some way.
If we are all a part of a created universe, or even if we weren’t created but are all made of the same stuff, then the stuff that comprises me is the same stuff that comprises you. Modern science tells us that the individual atoms that make up you are identical and indistinguishable from the atoms that make up me. It’s even possible, if not likely, that some of the same atoms have been part of both our bodies at different times.
Most of the time, most people think about themselves, and they think about other people. They think about themselves and other people as individuals. Seldom do they think about themselves and others as part of a larger oneness, a larger whole; but if we are all made of the same stuff, and that stuff travels from one of us to another, that is what we are.
This is not a mystical identity, but an actual one; it’s a physical reality.
One of our dogs likes to watch television. He recognizes other dogs on television, and gets very excited when he sees them. Sometimes we explain to him that the dogs he sees on television are not real, and that seems to calm him down a bit.
Our dogs are well-trained. They obey us when we tell them to do things; evidently they understand our language to some extent. If we are attentive to our pets and their needs, we understand their “language” – their behavior and their sounds – to some extent.
I am sometimes frustrated that our dogs cannot speak. If they could speak a language I understood, I could know them better. It would be easier for me to understand their feelings and needs.
I can look at our dogs, however, and know that we are all made of the same stuff. We are all one. If I look carefully, I can see the I-ness in them, and the them-ness in myself; I can empathize with them.
That is real empathy: to be able to look beyond the I-ness of me and the you-ness of you, and to see the I-ness in you and the you-ness in me.