How Empathy Can Save the World

Feb 5, 2013 by

Lately I have been calling myself the Empathy Expert. It sounds all catchy and cool but I think it’s actually true, I know a lot about it. I am literally writing the book about it. At least my own book from my knowledge and perspective.

One of the deepest reasons that this work resonates with me is because I believe that empathy is one of the strongest cures for much that is wrong in the world.

Here are two reasons why I believe that.

Empathy is the opposite of evil.

Think about it- When we really FEEL pain, ours and another’s, it is almost impossible to inflict pain on anyone. The very definition of empathy is someone who feels another’s feelings as if it’s our own feelings. For an empath, hurting someone else also hurts us. It’s awfully tough for empaths to be violent, viscous or even slightly mean. We are so tuned into others feelings that even setting a firm boundary feels “mean.”

(OMG, I said NO! Do you think I hurt their feelings? What if they are like all upset and hurt now and it’s my fault. Aurghhhh!)

See? Even the idea or possibility that we MIGHT have hurt someone’s feelings with our mean and terrible boundary drives us straight to Angst City. Empaths spend a lot of time in Angst City. We should buy real estate there.

It doesn’t mean we don’t hurt other people accidentally as we stumble through our lives, but highly empathic people really have a pretty tough time inflicting intentional pain on another. We are much better at hurting ourselves, or jumping in front of the bullet for you. (We are working on it, really we are!)

But to intentionally harm other, we don’t really have the wiring for that. To me this is the definition of evil, the intent to cause harm to another. It takes a kind of numbness, a deadening of one’s own feelings and the numbing of pain towards others to commit that kind of sin.

This is what we encounter in highly narcissistic and psychopathic people. There is quite a lot of research on these types of people and their behaviors. Scientists have determined that the parts of their brains that process emotions (the limbic system) are broken either through trauma or through wonky brain chemistry and anatomy. (Wonky Brain. It’s a technical term for a painful condition.) True psychopaths don’t feel anything. School shooters often suffer from profound dissociative disorders which also mean they can’t feel much of their own feelings or anyone else’s.

The more empathic we are, the less prone to violence. Shutting down to our own feelings and to others is the path to the Dark Side.

I love the TV show, “Fringe” and just finished watching the last season. It was all about “The Observers,” these horrifying future humans who had been genetically engineered to remove all traces of feelings and empathy and think only logically. They were monsters and made wonderful Bad Guys. Of course they were all bald, middle-aged men dressed in suits, with brief cases and fedoras. Amusing social commentary. And yet, not so funny. I found it very creepy, actually. They had genetically engineered a race of psychopaths in their search for a new and improved human.

Truly empathic people feel everything, including the fact that we are all integrally connected to each other through a web of life. We are all like Yoda, Pocahontas and the Circle of Life. That is the good stuff. Like in “Fringe,” we are the rag tag group of rebels that have held onto our FEELINGS and our LOVE for one another to prevent evil from overtaking the world.

The other miracle is that empathy and compassion can transmute and heal pain and suffering.

Truly.

This is the secret behind all modes of healing. Specific modalities are all good vehicles for healing, but the real ingredient is that the healer shows up, fully present, with empathy and compassion, hearts wide, open to be with someone else’s pain and suffering. That’s it.

When we open our hearts in compassion, empathy and love and show up for someone else, their suffering is transformed. Through that grace, there is now less suffering in the world then there was before.

This is what I do in my practice. When I was younger, I wanted to be a minister, or a chaplain. And it would be no different then what I do now. Therapists, healers, ministers, hospice workers, massage therapists, mothers, nurses, helpers, caretakers- we all learn how to do this. At least the good ones do. We show up, as present as we can get, hearts open and just BE with someone else’s pain. And in so doing, we lessen their pain. We transmute it through our hearts and when we are done, there is less pain in the world.

This is the real significance behind the image of the Sacred Heart. I love this image of Jesus, his hands wrenching open his robe to reveal his Sacred Heart. His heart is pierced by the sword of suffering, just like yours and mine is. Suffering cracks the heart open, and through this cracking open of our hearts, the flames of divine love come through. It is in this furnace of divine love, the furnace of our own hearts, that suffering is transmuted. Ours, another’s and the world’s.

So if you are feeling overwhelmed by the suffering of the world, by the evil you see all around you, do not turn your eyes away and shut your hearts down. Ground yourself, open your heart and lean into. I do this everyday in my life and in my work with people and if I can do it, you can too.

So take heart, all you empaths, you lovers, you overly sensitives. I am talking to you, you emo teens, you indigo children and you of the soft and squishy heart. Don’t feel bad about yourselves, since I believe that with our open heartedness we can save the world!

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