As you are all aware, in the course of life we experience many kinds of pain. Pains of the body and pains of the heart. I know I have experienced pain in many different forms and I am sure you have too. In most cases, though, I am sure you've found it very difficult to convey the truth of that pain to another person: to explain it in words. People say that only they themselves can understand the pain they are feeling. But is it true? I for one do not believe that it is. If, before our eyes, we see someone who is truly suffering, we do sometimes feel his suffering and pain as our own. This is the power of empathy. Am I making myself clear?''He broke off and looked around the room once again.''The reason that people sing songs for other people is because they want to have the power to arouse empathy, to break free of the narrow shell of the self and share their pain and joy with others. This is not an easy thing to do, of course. And so tonight, as kind of experiment, I want you to experience a simpler, more physical kind of empathy. Lights please.''Everyone in the place was hushed now, all eyes fixed on stage. Amid the silence, the man stared off into space, as if to insert a pause or to reach a state of mental concentration. Then, without a word, he held his hand over the lighted candle. Little by little, he brought the palm closer and closer to the flame. Someone in the audience made a sound like a sigh or a moan. You could see the tip of the flame burning the man's palm. You could almost hear the sizzle of the flesh. A woman let out a hard little scream. Everyone else just watched in frozen horror. The man endured the pain, his face distorted in agony. What the hell was this? Why did he have to do such a stupid, senseless thing? I felt my mouth going dry. After five or six seconds of this, he slowly removed his hand from the flame and set the dish with the candle in it on the floor. Then he clasped his hands together, the right and left palms pressed against each other.''As you have seen tonight, ladies and gentleman, pain can actually burn a person's flesh,'' said the man. His voice sounded exactly as it had earlier: quiet, steady, cool. No trace of suffering remained on his face. Indeed, it had been replaced by a faint smile. ''And the pain that must have been there, you have been able to feel as if it were your own. That is the power of empathy.
Haruki Murakami