Posts Tagged ‘empathy’

arthritisDifficulties are meant to rouse, not discourage. The human spirit is to grow strong by conflict. (William Ellery Channing)

Be nice. Nice. Nice. The teachings of my childhood. Begin with following all rules with a smile and… I don’t remember what came after the and.

Since I happened to be a girl who grew up in the middle of the twentieth century, options were limited. Rarely mentioned. Mom, teacher, nurse. The arts? Forget it. Not practical. Difficulties during those days needed to be faced with stoic silence.

The result—any pain, sorrow, even joys I felt that weren’t shared by my family seemed bizarre, disconnected with anyone else. I see life differently since I learned the world’s inhabitants have as many similarities as differences.

Empathy is a gift. A celebration of shared humanity.

When people, or groups of people, mock mass deaths for political motives I cringe. Conflict? Inevitable. I’ve shared meals, laughs, celebrations with some of the mockers.

Growth in compassion seems as likely as studying the brain through decapitation. And yet, using a less graphic image, grapes and roses grow after deep pruning.

Do I back down? No. That’s the advice of early childhood, the place where I got lost. Instead I follow the advice of my arthritic hands. They throb.

Mother nature has been sending enough rain to flood rivers and streams to overload the land. Pestering my aching joints with action is the way to be nice, nice, nice to them.

I pray for more people to listen to the survivors of injustices. May the listeners place themselves in similar unjust circumstances, without rushing to judgments.

May the survivors recognize they are not alone. May I somehow not sever all connections with the people I see as creating harm.

An impossible request? Maybe. A-step-up-to-unlikely would be worth the effort. In the meantime, I sharpen empathy by choosing awareness in close-by places.

The man behind me in the checkout line at the grocery store has three items. I have at least thirty. He can go ahead of me. My tired mate who needs a nap doesn’t need to be awakened by the vacuum cleaner. And, I have a friend or two who could use a phone call this evening.

Maybe the larger world is no closer to repair, but my smaller realm has been blessed.


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It takes a thousand voices to tell a single story. (Native American proverb)

Last week I saw a woman I usually avoid. She’s one of those people who exudes know-it-all with every move. Advice spills out of her leaky-bag style. She is the extrovert and I am the introvert, the way fire is hot and ice is cold. But, she turned to me with a tight-lipped smile that leaked a hint of pain.

Within minutes of a hello we were honestly sharing. And I realized my first, second, and even third impressions aren’t always as accurate as I think they are. Sure, I try to accept each person as an individual. But I don’t have X-ray vision into the heart, mind, and spirit. This woman isn’t as high and mighty as I thought she was.

Two of my friends have husbands facing mental decline. I also know about a young man who was released from jail yesterday. He was convicted for a minor offense—the incident occurred at least a year ago. The young man was not permitted a cup for water. He dipped his curved hands under the faucet and caught what he could. The water dripped down his arms and tempted his thirst, but didn’t quench it. Prisoners needed to buy cups. But the young man had been brought inside the jail, shackled. All possessions forbidden. Someone had to mail money to him. He had a family who was permitted to send him what he needed—weeks later.

How does it feel to be on the inside of people in life-shattering or extremely difficult situations? On the inside of their minds and bodies. Day and night. Human beings need dignity to survive.

During the Midwest Writers Conference at Ball State University at the end of July, Kelsey Timmerman, best-selling author, offered an empathetic message. That message stayed with me the duration of the weekend. It stays with me now. He spoke about the Facing Project.

The program initiates people into the world of folk who live challenge. And then it allows volunteers to interview individuals and write about difficult experiences as if the volunteers had walked through homelessness, addiction, poverty, autism, trauma, unemployment. The list continues, and is available on the website.

These writers do not need to be published authors, journalism majors, or even freshman English students. They can be truck drivers, store clerks, or retired plumbers.

If I had actually met the young prisoner, perhaps I could assume his voice. For now, I repeat what I heard from his family. I would rather approach persons than issues. Issues are rarely one-size-fits-all.

I met Kelsey at a writers’ workshop when he wrote as a travel journalist. Then he took a major risk. He visited the countries where our clothes are made. But, he had no intention of penning an isn’t-this-a-beautiful-landscape travelogue.

He lived with the workers, earned their trust, and relayed their stories—no whitewash. And Where Am I Wearing was born. Kelsey did not end his quest with that success. He left the comforts of a loving family and went on the trail again. He met cocoa workers who worked as slaves. He talked to them, one on one. Kelsey even attempted to save a worker. He could not. The slave owner had too much power.

Where Am I Eating was born into the publishing world.

Kelsey extended his fervor for world change into the States. In 2015 he joined with J.R. Jamison to create the Facing Project.

I asked Kelsey Timmerman to explain the project. This is his answer: “Our goal is to get communities to think bigger about social justice issues—not only globally but also locally. The real question to ask should be about one: Do I know one person in my community facing poverty or hunger or a disability? And better yet, do I understand their story? The Facing Project provides the opportunity to create connections between community members, students, and organizations. It allows citizens to carry the weight of their neighbor’s story and stand with them, side-by-side, to create community change.”

The Facing Project takes desperation and morphs it into hope. The e-mail sign up is easy to find. May face-to-face efforts expand until understanding eventually becomes commonplace.

I think that notion is called world peace.

Picture: Co-founders J.R. Jamison and Kelsey Timmerman welcomed Jay Moorman, Ontario Systems’ Vice President of Client Services (chair), Stephanie Fisher, content manager SpinWeb Internet Media (vice chair), and James Mitchell, associate director of the career center at Ball State University (secretary and treasurer). Ro Selvey, Junior High Math Teacher at Southside Middle School (K-12 Outreach), came later as a founding board member.


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