“Empathy may be the single most important quality that must be nurtured to give peace a fighting chance.” ~  Arundhati Ray

Like many people taking stock of difficult social/cultural issues, I’ve begun to take stock of my own quotient of empathy—the recognition of the common humanity of a person or persons.

I thought it might be worth a minute or two to test myself on a way of thinking and speaking about my fellow humans—to get into their shoes. Here are a few questions to get us thinking.

  • The term “those people” – how often if ever do you use it? Under what circumstances? Silently walking down the street, with a group of people, or in everyday speech?
    • Often, I don’t see anything wrong with the phrase.
    • I do occasionally find myself “othering” people even though I know it divides us.
    • I’m fairly vigilant about being inclusive and I apologize quickly when it’s brought to my attention that I’ve done it.
  • How quickly do you decide about someone you’re just meeting?
    • No/yes first impression and then maybe take a second look?
    • Decide they aren’t your cup-of-tea? Do you know why?
    • Are you surprised later when you get to know them and change your opinion?
  • When you do separate yourself from others with your language is it …
    • To hide my discomfort or fear of people who are different from me.
    • Because I don’t have the words that I know a person would prefer and am afraid I’ll offend.
    • Inadvertently and I always welcome feedback so I can grow and make amends.
  • How often do you see an “other” in your everyday life?
    • Never. I don’t see differences. I think we are all the same and try not to “other” them in my mind.
    • Not that often. When I do notice, I try to imagine what their life is like and/or find out more through conversation and/or reading.
    • Often and am glad that I live in a country where there is a wide range of people, beliefs, and cultures. It’s human nature to notice but in an appreciative or kindly curious way.

“Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other’s eye for an instant?”  ~ Henry David Thoreau

  • How has it felt to be one of “those people?”
    • Divorced, childless, LGBTQ, transgendered, physically different?
    • A racial, religious, or ethnic minority?
    • Older person in a group of younger people?
    • A woman in a male-dominated environment? And vice-versa?
    • Anything that has put you on the outside, not wanting to be judged and/or feeling invisible?
  • How often do you talk with “the other” and find out more about them?
    • Find commonalities that make them more interesting?
    • Honor the differences that make empathy more challenging?
    • Feel the full-body/spirit benefit of being more open hearted?

“If you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view, until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.” ~ Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)

Thank you for joining me in taking an honest, inward look.