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Friday, June 16, 2017

Learning Empathy

Shared Soul

Listening arises from a deeper place, and it seems we can only hear the living to the extent that we have truly lived, only understand pain and joy to the extent that we have allowed ourselves to be touched by life.”
Mark Nepo (The Book of Awakening, p.101)

I confess to having a hearing problem. Nothing is wrong with my ears other than old age, but none the less, hearing is often difficult. It's hard for me to hear things like the Creator being referred to as “He,” the white supremacists claiming that America belongs to them, and so on. It's almost as though my ears cringe and shut down. I think I stand in the majority when I say there are many things I don't like to hear, and therefore, I try not to listen. But if we continue on this path, it will be like the break up of Pangaea during the early Cretaceous Period, with continents drifting apart and oceans forming between them. The divide will be complete, with no going back.

Listening and hearing are related, but very different things. Listening requires understanding—that is, empathy—being able to take another person's world view. If, for instance, I were a person living in poverty, it would be very difficult for me to listen with understanding, to people who live in gold-clad houses. I've never had that experience, so I cannot relate. Conversely, if I were a person who had never lived in anything but a gold-clad house, I would have a hard time listening with understanding those who exist in poverty. Empathy requires that we be willing to listen from the heart, and put ourselves into the shoes of someone who is very different from us. Empathy is an art—and it's almost a lost art. It requires that we connect at the soul level.

Empathetic listening can be learned, but we have to want to learn it. Life itself is a great teacher. No one is exempt from loss and pain. The rich as well as the poor experience these. Being born into wealth does not insulate one from the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.” And, all of us, poor and rich alike, experience the joys of love and renewal. We stand on common ground. What is required for empathy to be learned is that we allow life to teach us—that we not shield ourselves from feeling the pain of loss but use it to increase our understanding one another. We must learn to hear and to listen; move away from anger and judgment, and renew the bonds of our collective humanity. We share a soul; surely we can learn to share a world.

                                                          In the Spirit,


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