Listening to an episode of On Being on NPR, Krista Tippett interviewed a journalist on the subject of how corporations and people who do good work for the world need to ask not only, what can I give, but also, how can I stop taking so much? He mentioned that, as individuals, we need not only to want the best for our own children but also for everyone else’s children. He went on to say that this doesn’t seem to be the value system he sees in the United States at this time and his comments got me to thinking about recent studies around empathy. These studies have revealed that there appears to be a correlation between increasing wealth and lessening empathy. When I listen to the news and look at the world around me, I see rather stark expressions of this correlation. That doesn’t mean there aren’t well-off people who express empathy in powerful, positive, and important ways. Instead, it points to an invitation to all of us who live in a materially privileged society such as the U.S. to pay attention to the world around us and to find ways to support and increase our empathic awareness and choices.
I’ve written many times about the value and importance of including “heart perception and intelligence” in our everyday awareness as we move through the world. Thinking with and from the heart naturally promotes a deeper experience of empathy because the heart automatically orients us toward an experience of connection with others, with the world around us.
For this week’s practice in conscious living, I invite you to focus on your relationship with empathy. Notice how it lives in your thoughts, your feelings, your intentions, your actions. Pay particular attention to those moments when you turn away from this awareness because it may be inconvenient to be aware of the experience of others or you don’t have time to get involved. If you discover this kind of response, invite yourself to stay focused for a bit longer on the awareness that has touched into your empathic response, include your heart awareness, and notice what happens when you allow yourself to experience your response more fully, more deeply.
One of the things I do to nourish my sense of connection to the world around me is to look for inspiring news each morning. I draw from Youtube and from all the various resources I’ve listed over time, one of the main ones being Service Space, which has daily emails, a website with many good news stories from KarmaTube, DailyGood, and more. You can find Service Space at www.servicespace.org.
Track the choices you make without adding judgments to them. This is an exercise in awareness, not one in forcing yourself to be or feel different from what spontaneously arises in you in any given present moment. Helping to support and increase empathy in ourselves is a contribution to our collective good. Developing this heart-based “psychological muscle” nourishes not only our own inner lives but also orients us to participate in responses and ways of being that nurture the world around us.
Please remember to bring along curiosity as your constant companion and to pat gently on the head any judgments that may arise along the way.