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This past week, we did an activity at camp called “Cross the Line”. It involves the girls and staff standing silently at one end of the gymnasium while a series of statements is being read. If a statement applies to a girl, they move forward to the middle of the gym and turn to face everyone still at the end of the gym. Of course, girls don’t have to cross the line if they feel uncomfortable. The statements cover topics such as family situations, homelessness, sexual identity, and self esteem, among others. This activity is a tradition at Girls Inc. It usually prompts a lot of tears and brings the girls closer together.

Us DukeEngagers have known about this activity since the first week of training. We were told about how emotional it is. We were sent the list of statements that would be used for the activity. I thought I was prepared for it. I didn’t think that I would get emotional myself.

When the statement “I have been homeless before” was read and I saw a handful of girls that were always cheerful, energetic, and excited in my classes walk across the line, I had to try so hard not to cry. I had come to care so much for these girls, and learning about the struggles that they had gone through broke my heart.

Cross the Line has made me think a lot about empathy, and how to feel it. In the first week of camp, the Eureka! girls had a workshop on sympathy vs. empathy. The difference is that sympathy is “feeling for” someone while empathy is “feeling with” someone. The girls were told to strive for empathy. But it’s difficult. I have struggled to feel the girls’ pain when they tell me about the difficulties that they’re going through. I do feel sad. I try to comfort them. But I can’t connect. Even after getting to know someone for weeks, months, years, I cannot completely understand their experiences if I have not gone through them myself.

That doesn’t mean that I, and many others who feel the way that I do, are not completely unempathetic. I took an empathy quiz online (which is definitely the most accurate way to find what kind of person I am), and I score a 73 out of 110 points, which means that I am moderately empathetic in general. I can sense emotions and I feel the emotions that people around me feel, and I can kind of put myself in others’ shoes,  but not completely.

The quiz suggested that I practice active listening, look for commonalities with others, and read more fiction to immerse myself in others’ lives more and improve my empathy. I don’t know how much that will do, but I’ll try. Improving empathy may just have more to do with certain experiences that I go through. But as long as I’m aware of this, I think that I’m on my way.