You are standing in line waiting while a woman unloads all of her groceries, gets them loaded into her cart, and pulls out her check book and starts writing, slowly, to pay for her groceries, while her child stares at you in the cart. Remember the elderly couple who walked very slowly in front of you, when you were in a rush, and you thought you would never get around them? Or what about the child who asks the same questions over and over, with no signs of changing topics, until you want to scream at them? Do you remember that lonely woman who checked out with you at the doctors, shakily collecting bills out of her purse to pay for the copay, while you seemed frustrated that it took her so long? What is it about other people’s experiences that we feel the need to distance ourselves from them? Why do you look away when you see someone crying, or struggling with someone, instead of offering help for a single moment? Why has our world seem to forgotten how to empathize with another?
Webster’s Dictionary defines empathy as the feeling that one understands and shares the emotions and experiences of another: the ability to share another’s emotions.
In a world that is constantly on the move, being updated with the latest technology and on demand service, it is easy to forget that the human experience goes beyond our need to stay connected through the various electronic devices. The connections that we have forged through Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and other social media has left us debilitated when it comes to communicating in person with others and sharing the experience of life. Not only does our written and spoken language take a nose dive, with some not even knowing cursive handwriting and the beauty words can have when harmonized correctly, but the way we behave around others has changed drastically.
The ability to stand and wait patiently in line has diminished almost, causing irritation and frustration at the slightest slow down in almost anything. When communicating to another person, I have noticed that half the time there is no eye contact made at all, and if so, it is almost as though the other person is uncomfortable with it. Yet it goes beyond ourselves. Increasingly, we are living in a world where we are completely detached from the human experience, substituting interactions over the internet for the real thing. We seem to be afraid to take on any experience with another person, scared that their experience may touch our own in some way. It is supposed to. Another’s pain should touch us, filling us so that we may for a moment imagine the grief they have, so that we may offer comfort in their time of need. Or anthers joy may make you angry. Angry that another may be experiencing joy when you are not. Instead of competing with others and trying to sabotage their happiness, we should all be happy for them, and in turn that happiness will show in our own lives. The comfort we offer others will show up when we need comfort ourselves.
The simple act of a hug, or a smile, can change the way another is experiencing that moment. Instead of another meaningless moment in their day, a stranger was kind, gentle, compassionate, empathetic, patient. The worst thing I see this in is in the healthcare field. Nurses, doctors, administrators, feeling as though the patients need to hurry along and get on to the next, forgetting that that person may be having that experience for the first time. Oh, you may have had to listen to hundreds of complaints all day, but that man trying to get some help because this is the first time he has had to worry about the issues of getting older? This is a first for him, a first experience in an older body, where people readily take advantage or push him aside. What about his story? What about the wonderful journey life has given him that brought him to this moment? Would you treat your grandparents that way? No. So slow down, remember that these are people, and take the time and make the effort to make them as comfortable as you can. It will not hurt you. You are at work anyways, so just do it. Any age, any gender, any stage of life, each is a new experience for all, something to be treated with compassion and empathy. One day you will be there too.
Empathy can heal the world. It makes you stop for a moment and imagine life in another’s place and how you would feel if it were you. The idea of yoga is to remind us all that we are united, we are all part of this journey through this universe, and that by living a yogic lifestyle we can impress upon others to remember this connection. Humans crave contact with each other, and yet seem to be afraid of this need. Patanjali tells us this in the Yoga Sutras, reminding us the importance of this connection:
“Through cultivation of friendliness, compassion, joy and indifference to pleasure and pain, virtue and vice respectively, the consciousness becomes favourably disposed, serene and benevolent.” ~Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra I.33
Cultivating this attitude of connection and empathy, of compassion and kindness, we can set aside differences that set off major debates, arguments, and wars, and focus on the connection of the human experience. We just are. We are not our culturally identified selves, we simply are. Are human, all connected, all together. This could heal the world…if only we would let it. Peace is not as complicated as everyone tries to make it. Yes, governments and cultures are complex systems, but they are merely systems we’ve created. So why not create a new one that betters all of us, instead of just some of us? I think it is time to kick the logical ego out, and build ourselves up together.
Many think this may be naive, but it really can be that simple…we just need enough people to want it as well. Only YOU, ME, WE can impress the changes we need through our own behavior, before others catch on too, and not just when bad things happen, but every day.