How Empathy Forms Calluses Instead of Callousness

The Virtuous Circles post got me thinking about calluses. Being an on-and-off guitarist, I know that calluses are a good thing. When I start practicing, my fingers quickly get sore. I can’t play guitar as long. As I develop calluses on my fingers, I can play guitar longer. Then there is the insensitive callous, the one with the o. We can form calluses with empathy so we don’t become callous.

Incidentally, for the grammatically inclined, callus and callous are considered homophones. They sound the same but have different meanings. A few weeks ago, I highlighted lessons learned from another set of homophones in Focus on Life’s Enormousness, Not Life’s Enormity.

Callus and callous both result in less sensitivity. Calluses are the result of work and perseverance. Callous is not carrying.


Calluses are those things you get on your fingertips when you play a stringed instrument. For the first few days of learning to play the guitar or cello, your fingers hurt. You’re digging thin pieces of hard wire into your fingers. It hurts.

At first.

Then you develop calluses. As your calluses get stronger, you can play longer.  Rhyme!

Do you want to know what I do though? I’ve done it several times. I get all excited about picking up the guitar again. I play for several hours…okay, minutes. I play way past the point where my fingers hurt for a few days. Then about the time I start developing calluses, I quit playing guitar.

Do you do that?  Do you start something all full of fire and determination, only to have that fire wane over a few days or weeks? Then quit around the time you develop calluses?

I’ve done that many times.

Then comes the campfire or party.  Someone pulls out a guitar, and I want to kick myself because I got no songs ready.

And no calluses.

So how do we make sure we spend that 20 or minutes practicing guitar every day to make sure we’re ready when those marshmallows start roasting?

Work hard on those calluses. Keep up that hard work.

It seems to me callus without the o is more of a physical attribute. It’s what happens to your hands when you work. It’s when we lose physical sensitivity.


Then there is emotionally hardened and insensitive, callous. It’s the one with the o. It’s when we lose emotional sensitivity.

Don’t do that. No matter how unfair life is to you, don’t let yourself become calloused.

The world will be a better place, and you will be a better person if you practice empathy.

Work hard at not being calloused.

Callousness Towards the Calloused

Society applies negative connotations against the calloused. It’s as though we’ve become calloused to the calloused. Being calloused towards the calloused is also not okay.

We’ll get further though by understanding why the calloused are calloused. What happened to them so much, or what happened to them that was so intense that hardened them emotionally?

Problems intensify when we’re overly emotional about how we’re treated and calloused about others.

Practicing empathy means also applying empathy to the calloused. We don’t have to tolerate evil actions of bad individuals. We also shouldn’t make the mistake of associating individuals’ acts as traits of the group to which that individual belongs.

Practice Empathy

Empathy is an opposite of callous. I’d suggest it’s impossible to be callous and empathetic.

Practice empathy even when it hurts. Practice until you form calluses.

Toughen up on the outside and soften up on the inside.

It reminds of the Bruce Robison song Valentine:


Form some empathy calluses so you’ll never be calloused.

Are there any areas where you think you should work on your calluses?

Are there any areas where you think you should try being less calloused?


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