Empathy & Compassion

These are times of strong polarisation. We look at the world, at the extremes, and know this cannot end well if it continues like this. So what is the solution?

Is it to paint the ones we disagree with or find threatening in dark colours? Is it to ridicule and point our noses at them? Is it to shout abuse and call them evil or bad people? Is it to wrap ourselves in our outrage, confident in our own righteousness?

Let's make it very simple and personal. When someone I care about is raging at me for something s/he believes I did wrong, anger rises in turn, feeding off itself into a fight, and I feel justified in responding in that way. Yet when the roles are reversed, when my belief is that my despair and frustration is justified, how do I need to be met? What do I long for? Understanding, right? I wish to be heard, listened to, understood. This is what all strong emotions long for, yet the only way for that to happen is if compassion is there, if the other person can log on to their empathy and be present with me as those emotions boil.

Mind may say: I have empathy, but those crazy people are wrong in their reactions, attacking us for something we haven't said or done, opinions we don't have. They even attack me(!) for my nationality, my gender, the party I vote for and so on. All they feel is hate...

It's actually not me they attack, but that's a story for another day. The challenge is to look at oneself rather than at others for a change, to really explore if empathy or compassion is truly present IN ME or if it's just a word I use to defend myself.

What is empathy? It is to FEEL what another is feeling. It is to be in their place, to open up to their experience without judgment or superiority. It is to "lower" oneself to that level, to dare to be there with them. It is to become transparent to the world instead of shying away from certain parts of it that we don't like.

The hallmark of actually practicing empathy is that it leads to compassion. I understand why they feel what they feel, and therefore I cannot judge. I might disagree with both the opinions involved and the actions that arise from them, and I can feel incredible fear at where it might lead, but I understand where it comes from. I cannot hate that. Understanding cannot hate.

Yet most of the time we don't want to understand. We don't want to go there because our own belief is comfortable. It is easier to hate than to love. The gateway is the willingness to practice empathy and, as always, not believe the thought in the mind that says "I'm an emphatic person."

Let's leave the words behind and practice it. What others do is completely irrelevant to the ones willing to change the world.  


(29 May 2016)

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