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Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Empathy and Civility

Crack in the Heart

“…Something softly precise
like a crack in the birdbath
makes it clear that all is not lost,
for as the bird splashes,
the water widens the crack,
and of all the ways I’ve seen myself
the bird is who I really am
and it splashes in my heart,
driving who knows what
through the crack...”
Mark Nepo (“Carving the Raft into a Flute”)

Many years ago, I attended a seminar given by Scott Peck at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church. One of the things he said has stayed with me; “Only a broken heart is open enough for empathy.” At the time, I wondered what he meant. Now, I know the truth of his statement. It takes a lifetime of making stupid mistakes to realize that we’re flawed human beings. We do dumb things, sometimes with tragic consequences. We hurt others, even when it's not our intention, and we are hurt by others even when they don’t mean to cause us pain. Sometimes, we even speak cruel words intended to wound. Realizing and claiming our personal mistakes is an important step on the path to consciousness. Until we accept that responsibility, we will condemn others for what actually belongs to us. Having a heart broken by the weight of our own mistakes allows light to shine in. We become less likely to judge others in such a harsh way. In Jesus' words, “He who is without sin, cast the first stone.”

Empathy and civility are in short supply these days. Now that anything civilized is regarded as “political correctness” by some of our leaders, people feel entitled to say and do almost anything they wish. Here in Alabama, we lack responsible leadership—we have a governor who is under impeachment proceedings for having an extra-marital affair with a member of his staff, a Speaker of the House who is being tried for abuse of office, and the Chief Justice of our supreme court, who was reelected after having been removed from office by a federal judge, has told his employees that they don't have to abide by the decision of the United States Supreme Court regarding same-sex marriage. There is an old song by Firesign Theater called, “I Think We're All Bozos on This Bus,” that seems to fit. As a society, we need a few cracks in our hearts.

Speaking aloud whatever rogue thought drops onto our tongues is probably not a good idea. Perhaps choosing what is and what isn't worth saying before we say it is being “politically correct,” but isn't that better than sewing ignorance and hatred? Empathy and civility go hand in hand. They both require a crack in the heart---not to mention, a brain in the head.

                                                            In the Spirit,


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