Is Empathy a Superpower?

Valerie Donati

She felt a desire in her, growing in her heart – something bigger than herself.

We all know what it’s like to be young, looking out at a world that is both frightening and exciting. In my teens I had a friend who used to say he got “energies” of excitement when he thought about the future. I knew exactly what he was talking about. I felt that way too.

But we all come at our life, our future, our hopes, and dreams from such different places. That’s what inspired me during the writing of The Color of Music, to try and wiggle myself into someone else’s shoes, to try and see the world through someone else’s eyes. 

More than that, I wanted to champion the art of trying. Trying to imagine another life, trying to be kind in how I treated and experienced people - even when they were so different from myself. That’s what 13 year-old Esme, the protagonist in The Color of Music is encouraged to do, through the most interesting means!

Esme soon learns that each living being should be given the dignity that comes with breath. To treat her neighbor like she wants to be treated – whether they live next door or across the world.

It's not easy living up to a standard like that. Just like all of us, Esme has her own prejudices – from the food she prefers, to the music she loves, to the fashion that feels just right. But how much richer is life, to see and experience it through someone else’s culture! This gives me, the author, good energy! I made sure to layer that sentiment throughout the story I wrote.

Just like Esme, I’ll never climb Mount Everest, I couldn’t even make it to basecamp. But I like to dream what it would be like for the Sherpas who do it, because it’s the best living they can make - even though it’s insanely dangerous. I have no idea what it’s like to live my life as a cocoa farmer in the Cote d’Ivoire, doing my part to bring chocolate into the world. But I can imagine the heat living so close to the equator, and the hope that this year will yield a good crop.

We really can’t see the world through someone else’s eyes, but we can share a respect for others that have been raised in a place and culture different from our own. In The Color of Music Esme is taught the importance of giving respect to all living creatures under the sun. If I could name the world’s greatest superpower right now, I’d say it was empathy, born out of love. Just ask Esme – she’ll tell you!