Social work professor speaks on self-awareness, empathy as keys to relieving world suffering

BYU social work professor Stacey Shaw gave Tuesday’s devotional at the Marriott Center. Shaw encouraged listeners to develop self-awareness and empathy. (Abigail Gunderson)

BYU social work professor Stacey Shaw spoke on Tuesday’s devotional about embracing one’s story to become a disciple of Jesus Christ.

Shaw centered her message around how each person’s unique experiences and journey can benefit the world. She said knowing and valuing oneself, developing empathy for and choosing to serve others, will develop disciples of Christ who can strengthen the world around them.

“Your ability to address suffering starts with valuing who you are and learning to have empathy,” Shaw said.

In her social work and research career, Shaw has worked with refugees around the world, helping them readjust physically, mentally and emotionally after major life changes. 

Shaw said adjusting to a “new reality” can be difficult for refugees experiencing global turmoil and for individuals going through personal struggles, especially for those who believe “only one path involves happiness or only one path indicates a manifestation of God’s love.”

On the contrary, Shaw said, “God loves us in all the aspects of our stories.”

Shaw is a licensed social worker and researcher. During Tuesday’s devotional, she spoke about personal and professional experiences which have helped her feel God’s love. (Abigail Gunderson)

To keep themselves grounded when going through periods of change, Shaw encouraged the audience to work toward knowing and accepting their individual stories.

“Your path of discipleship involves embracing your imperfect story and sharing who you are in a way that meets the world’s great needs,” Shaw said. 

She also said to remember everyone deserves love and joy regardless of past experiences or mistakes. 

“When there are aspects of ourselves or our experience that we don’t like, it can be tempting to pretend those don’t exist,” she said. She encouraged listeners to combat this pitfall by connecting with God and themselves through prayer. 

“Seeking God through prayer can help us see aspects of ourselves that God already recognizes and embraces,” Shaw said. 

In addition to self-awareness and self-love, Shaw emphasized the importance of seeing and loving others to serve them.

Despite individual differences, Shaw said recognizing a shared sense of humanity can unite people and defeat stereotypes. She said through her career, she has learned empathy is the key to breaking down barriers between people.  

She shared how accepting the call to “mourn with those that mourn” has helped her students develop empathy even for people whose experiences and perspectives are drastically different from their own.

“We can be better at finding similarities and appreciating differences,” Shaw said, citing her professional and personal experience engaging with people whose beliefs and traditions were different from her own.

With a growing scale of global problems, Shaw said everyone can meaningfully serve by responding with their own unique gifts and ideas to the challenges around them.

“We can find solutions,” Shaw said. “We can envision a more just and loving world.”

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