The widely-accepted definition is the ability to understand what others are going through, to be able to see yourself in their shoes. Within this simple word lies the power to change the world.
A fragment of the kaleidoscope
Start by acknowledging the limits of our physical senses and mental capabilities. We can’t see UV lights, or properly hear bat echolocation. Neither are we capable of flight or being in two places simultaneously. Not all of us have an IQ of 140 or have the creative talents of an artist.
Our experiences are unique to us, it’s what makes life interesting. But at times we become too caught up in our own journey to truly see the full picture. It’s like magnifying a section of artwork a hundred times and claiming that the minute imperfections are indicative of how awful the full picture is.
Take Jon for example. Jon works a 8-10 job to barely make ends meet. He has debt for a car and rents a one-bedroom apartment. Whatever extra money he had goes to taking care of his ailing parents. Jon gets fired. He tries to get another job but the economy is in a recession. He sells off his stuff to pay the basics. Then the hospital bills kick in. In desperation, a good man snaps. Jon robs a few shops for the money that he so urgently needs and gets shot.
While that may be a fictional tale, it illustrates the reality of so people out there, albeit much less dramatic. Therein lies a quandary: could Jon have done something better, wiser with what he knew at the time? The reality was that in Jon’s mind; all avenues were being closed off, and that there was no other choice.
Were you in Jon’s position, could you really blame him?
Take a walk in my shoes, won’t you?
It’s easy to see a situation from the outside and critique it. Example: Jon could have moved out of his apartment and into a shelter, sold off some of his stuff, reached out on social media for help, etc. Some of them might have helped, and other may have flopped.
Would Jon have gone on a robbery spree if he knew better? The reality was that he didn’t, and that’s the point. Like an older generation of Israelites and Syrians around the world, some cannot help but see the other as mortal enemies because of their constant war.
Why do they hate each other? Because the other side destroyed my family?
Why did they do that? Because my ancestors bombed their homes?
Why did that happen? Because their ancestors had a dispute that they couldn’t settle.
Both sides are locked in a vicious cycle that antagonizes the other, and the true casualty today is the weight of their sins being pressed onto a younger generation that only wants peace for both sides.
Nobody deliberately chooses to be poor.
Nobody chooses to be stuck in dead-end life situations going nowhere.
Nobody wants to be bad.
Nobody ever sees themselves as the villain.
Nobody chooses to suffer.
I see myself in you
Be kind to everyone; we don’t know what they’re going through.
A simple statement, and yet one that holds true even more in today’s world. It applies as much to the keyboard warriors battle each other endlessly across the internet as it does to your loved ones.
If we acknowledge that the other human being values truth, love, and justice as much as we do, would that not be common ground for adversaries to settle their differences?
If we see someone having a hard time, would we not extend ourselves in the form of aid, a kind word, or a hug?
What if we walked out there and saw everyone as ourselves, and treated them with kindness, respect and humor?
That’s why we call it selflessness.
Last but not least…
“Enlightenment is the ability to sit still and be loved.”-Anonymous
We often speak of empathy as something to be extended to others. However, if you’re like me your inner critic is your worst enemy.
Therein lies the truest test of empathy: the ability to extend it to ourselves.
Sometimes we make terrible decisions because we don’t know any better.
Other times we self-sabotage because the unknown terrifies us.
Do we scold an infant for not knowing how to walk? No.
It’s just part and parcel of life, learning on the fly, putting the pieces together and figuring it out as we go along. And yet we punch ourselves in the face for not knowing better, for being imperfect, for growing as a person, for being who we are. So much for growing pains.
What if we treated ourselves with kindness, love, and the right amount of discipline?
Our self-worth would be a lot higher. We would be happier and definitely healthier. Self-esteem and depression could never take root in our mind. We could make better decisions for ourselves. More importantly, our lives would be overflowing with love and kindness.
To my readers, I want you to know the following: