Behind the Story: A Lesson in Empathy

My first published story, “A Lesson in Empathy” is now available to the public with the release of book, Chicken Soup for the Soul: Life Lessons from the Dog!

Moose (pictured here) and I are a little nervous to share our story with the world. As the title alludes, it’s a story about a lesson I learned in empathy. But the story can’t be shared without being vulnerable about a difficulty I went through last year. I don’t go into much depth about those difficulties (the story is, after all, more about what I learned from Moose than it is about me), but reflecting back on where I was today, about a year ago, I never would have believed those difficulties would turn into a story that would lead to my first published work. Life, if nothing else, is surprising.

This story was a challenge to write. I started out with about a page of backstory, thinking I needed to explain Moose’s evolution from puppy to dog. Then I read the Chicken Soup for the Soul word count requirements (1,200!) and recognized that I needed to be able to cut to the point of the story - fast!

I thought about my main goals for this piece:

  • I wanted to show what it was like to experience a panic attack

  • I wanted to demonstrate the similarities between my experience and Moose’s experience

  • I wanted to articulate what it means to show empathy

In the way I wrote this piece, I tried to show how I’ve experienced panic attacks by describing the physical sensations in short, almost clipped sentences. I did the same for describing how I observed Moose behaving which I hoped would served as a bridge to demonstrate our similarities. One of the things I love about writing is that it’s not just the words that a writer uses to make the scene or feelings leap from the page, but it’s the sentence structure, too. My sentence structure was deliberate here and I hope it was successful!

Lastly, I read a lot of definitions on empathy. I watched countless YouTube videos (my favorite, and perhaps the most famous being Brené Brown’s video) of people (and muppets!) describing empathy and ways to show empathy to others. I then tried to craft my own definition, one that was meaningful for me, but also meaningful in context of this story.

You’ll find our story on page 95 in the section of the book appropriately titled Opening Hearts. Moose and I hope you’ll take a read and let us know what you think!