How Empathy Can Save The World

Dec 27, 2012 by

By Lisa Campion

I am feeling so bittersweet this Holiday season.  The sweetness is the love and warmth of my family and friends. I feel so blessed by the love that I have in my life. Relationships are important to me and I value them deeply, they are such a source of joy in my life and the true meaning of Christmas in my heart.

The bitter part of the bittersweet is recognizing that not everyone is as lucky as I am. Somehow the suffering of the world is more poignant, more painful at this time of year. The news has been tough, flags fly at half-mast and bells toll during a nationwide moment of silence. As a country, we grieve over the horrific loss of children and adults alike in a random act of violence. Although the Apocalypse failed to happen on this Solstice, it still seems to me like the world is going to Heck in a hand basket. It’s pretty scary out there.

And yet, I chose to have hope. There is not much I can do about the world except to live my life as deeply as I can from my own principals in every moment. And I do this as diligently as I can, as a spiritual practice.

I can choose to open my heart in love, even when I am afraid. Which is often.

I can aspire to treat everyone with equal love and respect. From my parents and children  (easy) to the Cranky Lady in the shiny new Mercedes, who cut me off in traffic in the Market Basket parking lot and responded with a rude but amusing hand gesture.  (Not so easy!)

It was such a small incident, but I felt two paths open in front of me. I could respond with righteous indignation after all I was the injured party, right?  SHE nearly hit ME.  SHE was clearly insane or smoking crack. SHE was spoiling my holiday, feel good mellow. I could join the fray and increase tensions with an equal display of my displeasure. My blood pressure went up. My inner snit factor ratcheted up to a seven out of ten.  A holiday, parking lot hissy fit seemed imminent.  <Snort, growl, grrrr!>

But I had just watched all six Star Wars movies in a row with my son, as I was laid low on the couch with the Apocalypse Flu. I heard the voice of Obi Wan Kenobi in my head telling me that that was the path to the Dark Side.

Instead I consciously chose to open my heart and felt empathy for her. I had no idea what her story was, or what was going on in her life. Was she stressed with her life and the holidays? Recently diagnosed with something horrible?  Maybe she had family trouble. Just lost a loved one? Or maybe merely suffering from a typical frustrating day of holiday shopping. Or perhaps she is just a bewitch, but the fact is, I will never know. I can’t do anything about her reaction to me, all I do is make my own choice, have my own reaction.

Fortunately, my empathy, the ability to keep my heart open and feel for her helped me calm down. I have been there. I have been in her shoes, whatever they are and could be again any minute. I too have been the Cranky Lady in the Market Basket parking lot. She was me and I was her.

Instead of the rude, reciprocal hand gesture hovering at the tip of my fingers, I chose to send her some love. I smiled and waved a little finger wave that pantomimed something like “Oh, pardon me! Please excuse me from trying to occupy the same exact point in the space/time continuum as you. Isn’t this parking lot the worst?  Merry Christmas!” I said all that in a finger wave, I really did!  And I flowed some good heart love juju her way. Obi Wan approved. (Ok, you guys know that my inner Jedi Knight talks to me in my head all the time, right? It’s just how I roll…)

And then it struck me that it is lack of empathy that allows violence. Truly empathic people are incapable of real violence.  How can you be, when you continually see You and The Other as the same? When you let your feelings flow, we naturally feel compassion, love and a connection to all living things.  I think this the NORMAL state for humans. Look at little kids, they start out as naturally empathic and loving. Violence shocks their systems, they have to learn how to tolerate it. Sadly, I think children are compelled to unlearn empathy, to become disconnected and dissociated in order to fit in and tolerate our own society.

It was reported that the shooter in CT had a mental health condition that made empathy very difficult for him, even perhaps that he felt little or no emotional and physical pain.  Psychopaths and sociopaths feel no empathy and that is where things go awry. Therefore, I will put it to you that psychopathy is abnormal and EMPATHY is the normal, healthy condition of all humanity.

So all you empaths, take heart. I believe that if we all embrace our empathy, as hard as it is sometimes, we can save the world from violence, greed and cruelty towards others. Embrace your empathy and save the world! Better yet, pass it on to your children, nurture it others and save their world too.

This season,  I have been singing a Christmas song, stuck in my head like a mantra, “Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.” I choose peace inside myself, heart open in love, feelings flowing, self care and self love. It is the perhaps the most powerful thing I can do to bring peace to earth. Let it begin with me.

I wish the same for you, that you find moments of peace and love for yourself. Carve them out. Find time in your crazy, busy holiday schedule to connect to your inner love and peace in whatever way works for you. Open your heart to others.  Empathy creates many moments of kindness towards others, and one act of empathic kindness from you will spread into the world, like the cure for the cancer of violence.

A few minutes after the parking lot incident with the Cranky Lady after she huffed off in her Mercedes, I made my way into the packed Market Basket where encountered a nice gentleman with a ready smile and a twinkle in his eye. He helped me get a carriage, he wished me a happy holiday.  It was contagious, his good mood. I could feel a ripple of positive energy spreading out from him, influencing everyone around him, this humble and happy Buddha of the supermarket. It washed out whatever remnants of my own bad mood, bless him.

Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with you!

Happy Holidays to you all!

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