In the time when the world is sick and dying, a tribe of people will come together of many races. They will be a people who put their faith in deeds, not words, and the world shall become green again. – Cree Prophecy
Our world is broken. The political situation in the US and elsewhere since the onset of the pandemic has reinforced that idea to a terrifying extent. It feels like we’re on a runaway train, with powerful, egocentric politicians and wealthy elitists handling the locomotives in hasty pursuit of even more power and wealth. By repeatedly denying climate change from their lofty platforms, it is possible to convince folks like us that their unrelenting acts of negligence and devastation on our environment are having little if any impact on our lives. All too often, as Americans are witnessing now maybe more than ever, the ones in charge with tremendous power and wealth do not model desired qualities such as empathy and compassion.
NY Times Best Selling Author Glennon Doyle addresses the manner in which our deplorable status quo is maintained in her excellent book Untamed. Qualities like tenderness, vulnerability, mercy, and empathy are labeled as feminine and therefore discounted, she says; as a result they can be viewed as shameful qualities for men to possess. Due to this centuries-long manipulated belief system, Doyle writes, there is no more messy, world-changing tenderness to deal with. . . Mercy and empathy are great threats to an unjust society.
Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them humanity cannot survive. ~Dalai Lama
According to an article in Psychology Today, empathy is the ability to recognize, understand, and share the thoughts and feelings of another . . . It is important, the article states, for healthy relationships and compassionate actions, enabling altruistic helping behaviors.
Dacher Keltner, PhD, Professor of Psychology at UC Berkeley, writes about how the empathic behavior of sharing can benefit the giver as much as the receiver, just as the act of forgiveness benefits the one forgiving. (Check out this article for more on that.) Furthermore, Keltner asserts, when people feel compassion, they start to feel deeply connected to very different groups. In particular, they feel like they are similar to and share a common humanity with people who are really in need, who are really vulnerable. Owing to the virus and those capitalizing on it since inception, our Earth and the great majority of Her inhabitants are suffering more than ever; what could be more important than empathy and compassion now?
Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. ~Galatians 6:2
In The Greater Good Magazine, also from UC Berkeley, empathy is referred to as a building block of morality. Studies show that it reduces bullying, prejudice, racism, and inequality. Other research shows that it deepens intimacy, promotes health, and can help police officers use less physical force, and feel less distant from the people they’re dealing with. That could go a long way in easing systemic race issues, don’t you think?
The earth is the mother of all people, and all people should have equal rights upon it. ~Chief Joseph
Do other animals show empathy? According to OneKindPlanet.org, separate studies done on elephants, rats, and chimpanzees prove they do. Grooming, comforting, and protecting seem to be common altruistic behaviors in the animal kingdom. And, not just for those of their own species. Animals can be sensitive to the feelings of humans. (This article shares more on that idea.) Also, I’ve seen countless photos and video clips on social media of dogs caring for kittens, cats adopting birds, etc.
What about plants? Empathic-type behaviors are regularly displayed by plants, according to Daniel Chamovitz, director of the Manna Center for Plant Biosciences at Tel Aviv University. When attacked by bugs, trees release pheromones that cause neighboring plant life to produce chemicals that help them fight the attack. In addition, roots can communicate to warn of drought so others in their community can prepare. (For more on how plants benefit other botanicals as well as humans, see this article.)
Christopher Bergland, world-class endurance athlete, coach, author, and political activist, writes that, even for those completely lacking, empathy can in fact be learned. In this article, he shares a quick loving-kindness meditation to help rewire your brain for empathy and compassion. In short, each day, take a few minutes to sit quietly and send compassionate thoughts to loved ones, a current adversary, those suffering around the world, and yourself. Bergland says, by doing this daily, you can sense your brain shift and open up to empathy . . .
On the threshold of a national decision that has potential to further increase the velocity of our collective runaway train, empathy and compassion are pivotal. My prayer is that these ideas become a driving force with politicians, the wealthy elite, and all the rest of us. With consistent practice, we can heal the Earth and change the course of humanity, thereby mending our broken world.
When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war . . . So I say to you . . . brothers and sisters, let the spirit of peace and the power of everlasting love be your guide. ~US Representative John Lewis (recently deceased)
Blessings for Empathy & Compassion,