“If you want to awaken all of humanity, then awaken all of yourself. If you want to eliminate the suffering in the world, then eliminate all that is dark and negative in yourself. Truly, the greatest gift you have to give is that of your own self-transformation.” – Lao Tzu
“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view … Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.” – Harper Lee
“When you show deep empathy toward others, their defensive energy goes down, and positive energy replaces it. That’s when you can get more creative in solving problems.” – Stephen Covey
“You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, or who had ever been alive.” – James Baldwin
I had a very different blog post in mind for today, but in light of all that’s going on around the world, I have to return to an idea I write upon often in my posts. That is: that the only way to heal the world is by healing ourselves first.
With the riots going on in Baltimore, the terrorist threats around the world, the battle over rights for the poor, gays, and women we’re living in the middle of a war zone. Our instinct is to wall ourselves off, attack before being attacked and blame people and societal forces for all the bad things that happen to us personally and out in the world. The answer to solving our problems, however, is to do the opposite of what we’ve always done. We must learn to be empathetic.
Perhaps I’m an advocate for using empathy as a healing tool because I’m an empath. I was born that way so I can’t help it. But I’m with Neil deGrasse Tyson, empathy can be taught. You don’t have to be born that way. He advocates teaching empathy as part of our school curriculum. It’s the only way we’ll change the world for the better. For those of us who are adults, we’ve got to teach ourselves how to climb inside another person’s skin and walk around in it for awhile. Choosing to be empathetic takes courage.
My first reaction to the riots in Baltimore when I heard about them, was to condemn the rioters. But then I reminded myself to step back and try to understand why they feel so much rage. I could condemn anyone who turns to violence rather than looking for common ground to solve the issues but like my Dad used to say, “People who lash out at others are in so much pain they think that attacking others will help them get rid of it.” The thing is, that never works. I know because I’ve attacked people thinking the attack was deserved and that I’d feel better afterwards but I always felt worse.
There’s a great quote from the movie Ben-Hur that illustrates why violence never works. (I love picking up little gems of wisdom from movies and books.) Esther, the woman Ben Hur loves, says to him, “I know there is a law in life, that blood gets more blood as dog begets dog. Death generates death, as the vulture breeds the vulture!” We know that violence begets more violence, but for some reason we don’t stop ourselves. We attack others in big and small ways insanely thinking that we’ll get rid of our rage, that people will listen, that things will change for the better. The only way things will get better is if we feel empathy for others, forgive and stop attacking.
Healing is about forgiving ourselves and everyone we think injured us. Forgiveness is letting go of blaming and needing apologies. Forgiveness is about seeing the light of God in another person even if they can’t see it in themselves. We have to allow ourselves to understand that every human being longs for complete love and understanding just like we do. The best way to get that love and understanding is to give it away to others then it will come back to us.
I know it takes courage to go against the majority way of thinking. I know it’s scary to show empathy to a person who is in a great deal of pain and who might lash out. But the alternative is for violence to escalate. I’m tired of that, aren’t you? We’re at a turning point and only you can decide what you’ll do.
Lucinda Sage-Midgorden © 2015