“Empathy is really the opposite of spiritual meanness. It’s the capacity to understand that every war is both won and lost. And that someone else’s pain is as meaningful as your own.” ~ Barbara Kingsolver
Turning from Me to We
We live in a culture that has typically not had a lot of use for empathy; that is, the ability to see the world through the eyes of the ‘other.’
We pride ourselves on how rugged and individualistic and awesome we are, pretending we didn’t get any help along the road through life. This stance is, and should be, truly laughable.
Everyone alive owes the fact that they are even breathing to at least two human beings: their parents. The web begins there. They wear clothing made by poor women in factories in China or Bangladesh or India, and drink milk from cows living on a dairy farm hundreds of miles from their homes. They sit on chairs made in Mexico and watch a television made in Japan. They read books and watch films and play video games — that are all the direct result of the imagination of their writers, directors, designers, and programmers. The roads that carry them to work are paid for by federal and state taxes, as is police service, fire service, education and infrastructure. There is no lone, ‘I built this’ individual. It’s total crap.
Everyone had help.
No one is disconnected from others in this world.
Even if you live in a penthouse on Park Avenue or, better yet, a cave in the woods, in one way or another, you are connected to thread of life because that’s the deal. We live in a macrocosm. The filaments of connection between us are like a spider’s web. Everyone gets caught up. Everyone.
We are meant to be collaborative and empathetic, not competitive and cold. The latter is a social construct that needs to be dismantled and left behind.
“My religion is kindness.” ~ The Dalai Lama
So, what is empathy?
Here’s what it is not. Empathy is not synonymous with sympathy. Sympathy is to pity another who is dire straights, or to feel sadness over their grief or difficulty. Sympathy maintains the distance between your heart and another person’s.
To empathize with another being (plant, animal, human) you must be able to imagine what it would be like to be them. You must walk in their shoes – however small, ripped up, or broken down those shoes might be.
“There but for the grace of God, go I.”
So, an empathetic person cares for the sick, the elderly, the mentally ill, and those whose souls feel broken.
An empathetic person reads the newspaper or a novel, following the details of a story of someone so unlike her and, yet, she still sees herself in that person’s struggle.
An empathetic person works to feed those who are hungry, to make sure children don’t go to bed without dinner, to give even a toddler living in the abject poverty the chance at a good life.
To possess empathy means to you are able to see your inherent likeness in another person’s eyes.
Like it or not, we are in this lifeboat together. We sink or we swim based upon what we do right now.
I vote that we build a more collaborative, heart-centered, collective-good sort of world.
© 2014 Shavawn M. Berry All rights reserved
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