Week 649:Orienting to Empathy

Listening to an episode of On Being on NPR this morning, I was inspired and moved by Krista Tippett’s guests, two poets – one a Muslim man, Interfaith Visionary Eboo Patel, and the other, former U.S. Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey, who is also a biracial woman. Both are accomplished teachers and speakers, and both have a perspective that touched and nourished my heart. They spoke about “after the election”, and the challenges and opportunities that will face us when the election is over.

One story in particular, told by Eboo Patel, awakened in me the power of compassion and empathy in dealing with difference and the common good. He talked about how, if we truly support diversity, we need to be able to disagree with someone’s core values, to be able to dispute them and work on different sides of an issue, and still work together on other communal problems. He talked about how he had never before considered that there is a large group of people who look at their lives and see that their ways of making a living have simply disappeared. He wondered how he would feel if he were to wake up one morning and find that the avenues currently open to him to earn his living were suddenly closed, no longer to be available to him. It awakened in him a deep sense of empathy for all the people who have been affected by our changing economy and he wondered why he hadn’t thought of it before.

It also touched something in me and, even though I regularly talk and think about the fears that are so vividly moving our political process at this point. What touched me was Eboo’s recognition of how important it is to allow ourselves to recognize what’s happening in the lives of people with whom we don’t agree, and what moves them to take the stand they do.

For this week’s experiment, I invite you to pay attention to your relationship with empathy and to notice what happens if you even more actively recognize what motivates people with whom you disagree. This relates to Marshall Rosenberg’s Non-Violent Communication process, as well, where part of the process is to understand what each person really wants and needs and to see if there’s a way to meet what each party truly needs.

If you notice mixed feelings as you play with this experiment (something I would think is inevitable), remember to orient yourself to your heart’s intelligence and perception. One of the things I’ve written about before, and that I use all the time, is the question: “What would my heart say about this?” Then, notice whether your heart intelligence and perception offers something new to your experience, or gives you another angle with which to be present to the struggles, fears, and suffering of people who disagree with you.

As I write this experiment, it is October 30, a day of prayer for the Standing Rock water protectors. The request is to pray not only for the protectors, but also for the enforcers who carry out the government’s position. That the Standing Rock people are asking for a day of prayer for all concerned touches me in the same ways that this morning’s On Being interview and discussion touched me. It holds a recognition that we’re all in this together, no matter what.

Remember that there are no right or wrong ways to spend time with these experiments. They are, always, simply one more opportunity to explore living consciously and to discover what ways of thinking, feeling, and behaving add to your quality of life and what ways diminish it. And, it’s always useful to remember to have curiosity as your constant companion, as the energy and presence of curiosity opens us up to experience and to new understandings along the way.

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