“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
“Humans aren’t as good as we should be in our capacity to empathize with feelings and thoughts of others, be they human or other animals on Earth. So maybe part of our formal education should be training in empathy. Imagine how different the world would be if, in fact, that were ‘reading, writing, arithmetic, empathy.’” ~ Neil deGrasse Tyson
“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, who had ever been alive.” ~ James Baldwin
I was having a difficult time getting a handle on how to write this post. I knew I wanted to write about empathy, but what can I say that I haven’t already said, or that is new? Even so, I sat down and wrote a rough draft, before doing my morning meditation. This is not my usual routine but I had lots of ideas running in my head and I needed to get them out to clear my mind.
After my meditation I came into the kitchen and saw the white tailed deer family. They had come to drink out of our birdbath as they often do. I felt bad, though, because earlier this morning I saw that the water level was low but it has turned unseasonably cool here in Arizona and I decided to wait until it was warmer to go outside. The mother had been able to drink, but the young ones couldn’t because the water level was so low. I went out immediately to fill the bowl. I was a little surprised that the mother didn’t run away immediately as I went to get the hose. Maybe she sensed that I wanted to help. I don’t know. I hope they come back.
I felt like I had failed the deer by thinking of my own comfort before theirs. And after yesterday’s announcement from scientists that we have ten years to reverse the damage to the environment that we’ve caused, I feel like we have had a complete lack of empathy toward Mother Earth and the other beings who share this planet with us. We’ve been callously focused on what we want at the expense of all else. The reckoning has come and we are suffering now for our selfishness. It will only get worse if we don’t do something immediately.
Our lack of empathy has played out in so many other ways over the millennia. The individual lives, civilizations and ancient knowledge that has been lost because of greed, or fear, or the need to control. It’s staggering. Sometimes I despair that we will ever learn to feel the pain of our neighbors, friends, and family and we’ll just keep focusing on our own desires. It might be better for the planet if humans ceased to exist. And yet, there must be a reason for us being here? I’m constantly in the search for the meaning of past and current events and why humans even exist.
Last week my husband was watching a video of Bill Maher interviewing historian, Doris Kearns Goodwin on his show. She’s written several books about presidents. The most famous ones are about Abraham Lincoln and Lyndon B. Johnson. The two were talking about the Kavanaugh hearings, and Donald Trump’s presidency, and Goodwin said something that I believe to be true. “Empathy is the number one quality a president should have and this president doesn’t have it.” I’ve thought about that a great deal since I saw that interview.
I think Goodwin is right. But I think empathy is the number one quality all of us should have. It seems we’ve lost a good deal of it over the last few years, or maybe only a few of us ever had it to a large degree to begin with. It’s just that, for some reason, we’re more aware that we need it now.
We are all born with a certain amount of empathy. It’s part of our emotional intelligence tool box. I’ve heard experts say that empathy is like a muscle. We can develop it to a high degree if we choose to do the exercise necessary to help it grow. At various times, I’ve thought that I’d like to develop a course in empathy. Maybe I’ll get help in doing that from the coaches at The No Pants Project. One reason Michael Shreeve developed the program was because he believes helping others succeed is extremely important. His clients can’t do that without having empathy. It’s one of his major business tenets.
I don’t know if I’ll be able to develop a set of teaching tools, or a program that will help people grow their empathy muscles. I just know it feels like that might be one of the things I’m supposed to do.
Thanks for reading, liking and commenting. I appreciate it.
Lucinda Sage-Midgorden © 2018
Lucinda is the author of The Space Between Time, an award finalist in the “Fiction: Fantasy” category of the 2017 Best Book Awards. It’s a historical, time-travel, magical realism, novel, and is available in all ebook formats at Smashwords, or you can find the ebook at iBooks or Barnes and Noble. If you prefer a physical copy, you can find a print-on-demand version at Amazon. Stay tuned for news on the audiobook version Lucinda is working on. To join her email list, click here. She will never sell the names on her list.