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This week Professor Mona Siddiqui, Assistant Principal Religion and Society, reflects on empathy.

I completed and submitted a grant application last week. A small personal achievement at a time of such strange paradox. On the one hand, projects and grants seem far less important, almost a luxury, when so many around the world are dying, the months ahead remain uncertain and no-one knows how and when we will return to our workplaces. And yet, I’m also conscious that having a future goal, some creative resilience, is necessary both professionally and for our mental and emotional energy.

Today, when many are struggling to live and work under lockdown constraints, thousands of others are also giving up their time to volunteer in all manner of ingenious and compassionate ways. People are discovering new purpose, whether it’s more family time, helping in their neighbourhoods or raising money for good causes by taking on different challenges. The words of Ralph Waldo Emerson come to mind, `The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.’

Perhaps all we can do at the moment is to find new resilience, new ways of living well with ourselves and with others; it is a test of our empathy. Empathy cannot heal everything but it can console and stretch our imagination. Empathy binds us to one another through ordinary and radical acts of kindness, helping us to strive for a more hopeful future for all. Its power is largely unspoken but the moral force of empathy lies at the heart of what it is to be human.