As we continue to dive into this notion that compassion gives life to empathy, I thought it might be helpful to pull from another beautiful piece of literature, La Belle et la Bête by French novelist Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve. This fairy tale is better recognized from the Disney film adaptation, Beauty & the Beast.
While the Beast's plight is due to his own arrogance and pride, unlike Boo Radley, they both experience the painful consequence of being outsiders. They are dismissed and discarded; they are unseen. When we agree with the narrative that others create for us, we become what it is they believe and cast away any notion that it could be different. We give shame the authority to be the narrator and shame's theme is that we are unworthy of love, of belonging, of kindness. And so our Beast, believing he is unworthy of redemption, remains isolated, ferocious, and terrifying. He relates to the outside world the way he does to his internal world.
That is, until, a woman steps in to counter the story he has surrendered himself to.
Emma Watson, who plays Belle in the live-action version of the original animated film, describes the power in their relationship, "What's so beautiful about this story as a whole is this idea that Belle is able to see past these extraneous, external, superficial qualities of Beast. She is able to see deeper, and that's one of her special powers. It is her superpower: empathy."
She juxtaposes Beast to Gaston, "[Beast] has been damaged and needs rehabilitating. He is just in need of love, whereas Gaston is someone who has had nothing but love and admiration and easiness and because he's never suffered, he doesn't have any empathy." How interesting that she correlates suffering to empathy. But is that not true? If we are unwilling to be affected by hardship and pain, we will remain blind.
Belle's own sufferings have allowed her to see "deeper" and in seeing Beast, she saves him. All it takes is one person to see who we were meant to be and can be that can unshackle us from shame. Empathy is powerfully healing. Empathy says, "I see you. I see your pain. I see your struggle. I see your hopes and longings. I'm here and I'm with you." We need empathy to find our way to our truest self.