Degrees of Empathy Determine Our Humanity by Wayne Saalman

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THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING GRACIOUS and earnestly respectful to others in a time of crisis should not be underestimated, not when contrary views on politics and religion are running as rampant as they are today and to such a truly dangerous degree.

 

All of us, no doubt, are equally alarmed by the current pandemic, but this deeply troubling place we are in at this particular moment in history is precisely where our spirituality is put to the test. How each of us handles our reactions to these challenges and issues reverberates, not just across the days and nights of our own lives, but also into the lives of our children and grandchildren who are inheriting our increasingly challenged planet.

 

Under these, or any, circumstances, the first of all the reality checks we must make in order to deal wisely with these issues must come from turning inward and conducting a deep and honest appraisal of the prejudices and biases we each happen to harbor.

 

None of us are “saints”, of course. We all like our pleasures and pursuits, but these can easily be – and often are – at the expense of others. Those of us who are blessed with peace and plenty, for example, are exceptionally lucky, but we know damn well that there are millions of human beings who are mired in dire circumstances; who are suffering deprivation, starvation, homelessness, violence and war. We must, therefore, ask ourselves what we are doing to contribute to the situation or to the solving of it. The same goes for the planet as a whole and for our fellow neighbors who face a dire health situation.

 

Having empathy for the plight of others is an easy test of our sense of compassion as we witness the suffering of others.

 

The easiest way to cultivate empathy is by understanding that the human species has busied itself over the centuries and millenniums by doggedly searching for “truth” when it should have wised up somewhere along the way and gone in a lateral direction. By that I mean this: consider the result. The search for truth is what has led to the very situation we are now in where billions and billions of us are members of religious organizations or political movements which claim supremacy over all others.

 

How can that be right or good?

 

To my way of thinking the conventional and orthodox pursuit of truth has obviously not panned out. It has led to conflict and exclusion, to division, violence and war. The proof of this contention is to be seen on the screens of every news media outlet and newspaper from every quarter of the globe on a daily basis.

 

Rather than seeking truth, we should seek to dispel delusion instead. We can do that by stripping back the culturally contrived layers of belief which have congealed around virtually every social and religious institution on the planet and exposing its roots. When we do that we are able to see how the strands of those roots have been woven together and how they came to be. The purpose of this exercise in not to denigrate any particular institution, but to understand the sincere motivations that created it in the first place and to subsequently apprehend how the institution morphed over the years while under the influence of succeeding generations.

 

Dispelling delusion is an act of liberation.

 

While it might seem tedious and tiresome to pursue a forensic investigation into the roots of our social and religious institutions, it is actually one of the most freeing and exciting things that one can do, especially when we consider how even the most intelligent of people can find themselves “stuck” and “in a rut” in this life, or up against some kind of mysterious wall. To come unstuck, therefore, it is imperative that we back up and think twice. After all, if a particular approach hasn’t worked, then we need to do something radically different. Instead of holding fast to the beliefs that have put us in the rut or up against the wall in the first place, we must take a new tack. We must see everything from an alternative perspective.

 

How do we do that? By practicing a very simple “flip”. We use the power of the mind to see the world, just for a split second or two, from the perspective of every other person we encounter, whether in real time or on one of our electronic windows into the world.

 

It’s a simple maneuver, but very effective.

 

What happens by repeatedly doing this is that we soon find ourselves feeling empathy for others. We sense their struggles, their fears, their hopes and their dreams. At first, we can only imagine those things, but by pursuing this strategy as a spiritual praxis we eventually deepen the empathy we feel. If we are fervent and persistent in our efforts, we easily discover commonalities. We discover that virtually everyone has very similar struggles, fears, hopes and dreams.

 

That is a very good thing to know, for commonalities unite us. Apprehending commonalities allows us to see beneath the surface of life and to understand that while cultural expressions of those commonalities are very different, at root or in essence, similarities prevail.

 

Shakespeare once wrote, “Nothing is good or bad but thinking makes it so.”

 

These are wise words. “Good” and “evil” are human concepts, not absolutes which exist apart from the perceptions which give rise to them.

 

If we understand that it is degrees of empathy that determine our humanity, we grow as spiritual beings and that is precisely what will change virtually everything for the better.

 

 

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