We share stories not to cause separation, but to create connections. We say, “Hey, this is my world. Does it gel with yours? Do you understand me? How can I understand you?”Laraine Herring
Did you know that there’s an app that shows you which of your friends are racist? Yeah, it’s called Facebook. I’m joking—sort of. Getting right to it I will admit that I’m still learning NOT to have fights on Facebook.
Blame, what is it good for?
Recently someone posted a map of China illustrating all the terrible things China gives the world. I got on my high horse—which I shouldn’t have, and tried to make this person understand that as much as China may be providing the world with some of these things, we western people are equally responsible for purchasing them. We are as much to blame—looking for cheap and easy solutions to our lives. To pick an entire people and say that they are no good and ruining the planet does no good for anyone. It creates an us versus them mentality.
Shortly after someone else posted about migrants who chopped down centuries old olive trees in Greece. I called bullshit on that article. I sent it to https://www.snopes.com/ but they are super busy with all sorts of Covid-19 stuff so in my impatience I got on my high horse—again. To my friend’s credit she received my challenge openly. I suggested that it was unlikely that the article is true for a few reasons. First, I had trouble picturing a mob of axe wielding migrants running through an olive grove like a battalion of Viking warriors chopping away old olive trees. I mean where would they find all the axes in the first place? And then—what? They picked up the cuttings and carried them away as shown in the tidy field of stumps? Or less likely, the disgruntled Greek citizens picked up the entire wood of an olive grove in two days and moved everything away. Once more I felt the us versus them gap grow with the danger of propaganda, or at least not enough information.
Hi-yo, Silver! Away!
Another ‘friend’ posted an article about Muslims and how they marry children, have honor killings and are generally not good people. Oh, shit…I hear the galloping of my high horse coming. Yes. I got on it. I know too many lovely Muslim families who want the same things we do: to have a happy and healthy family, to worship, to be safe. I defended the goodness of the people I know and love. I also added that one of the images of a child bride was from a social experiment and not an actual documented event. The post was quite hateful.
The piece that is dangerous is the lack of empathy for others.
We are one.
If we look at groups of people with a critical eye, drawing attention to all that is different rather than using a loving heart to focus on all that is the same we lose empathy. Our similarities are binding. Remembering that we are folks, trying to live, trying to do our best, loving our families, paying our bills, buying groceries, eating together, worshiping—these are the day to day yearnings of all of us. All our deepest desires are happiness, love, safety. If we stay tuned in tightly to empathy this small blue planet can become a better place.
Empathy and the arts.
Sculptor John M. Soderberg says: “One of the most crucial human qualities, I believe is empathy. Given empathy, brutality becomes impossible. Empathy is at the heart of our humanity, and in fact is the heart of our humanity, for it reduces the barriers of race, religion and creed to items of mild interest, while unlocking our true inherent human dignity. The act of encapsulating empathy in some medium, be it dance or music, painting or sculpture, simple stories or more complex forms, is my definition of art. The feeling and then the sharing of an emotion or idea—which is the essence of art—is what makes us human.”
Laraine Herring, author of Writing Begins with the Breath says “empathy requires a level of imagination. We have to imagine what it might be like to be in the other person’s shoes. The task of a writer is to help the reader experience the life of another person or people.” She goes on to say that “as a writer if I lack empathy my work is going to be cold, detached and preachy.”
I think, to cultivate empathy for others we really have to have empathy and compassion for ourselves.
If we can’t find a way to empathize with them (our characters), we’ll judge them, and it’s very clear to a reader when an author judges her characters. Judging creates distance. Empathy creates connection.
Let’s read that again: Judging creates distance. Empathy creates connection.
Empathy helps us move from an “us and them” mind-set to a “we” mind-set.
I am still learning to keep my mouth shut. It’s a mad skill I am far from, however I am working on it. But, I am also learning that I can be swift with what I like to call the internet karate chop: the delete-block! This is a useful tool for stepping away from potential conflict—until I learn to shut it.
Bernard Meltzer says “before you speak ask yourself if what you are going to say is true, is kind, is necessary, is helpful. If the answer is no maybe what you are about to say should be left unsaid”. Thanks Mr. Meltzer.
And what does Ellen DeGeneres say at the end of every episode? She says “be kind to one another.”
Well, she’s right!
This post was full of quotes. No apologies. I think that we are also here to learn from one another.