Op Ed by Lynn Jericho
I was planning on writing about preparing for the coming year — not resolutions, but goals, desires, hopes for being human and becoming I. But something happened on Friday that drew my attention to something that we need to consider first.
Do we have a future, a year worth living, if we fail to develop empathy?
I found great inspiration in the shooting in Connecticut and the pain I felt hearing about it. OH, I wish it had never happened, but it did happen and it is up to you and me to redeem the horror, the suffering and the meaninglessness of it, by facing the evil, embracing the heartbreak and finding some new meaning in our own souls.
In the Inner Mother Inner Father program, I describe reverie as the maternal gesture that de-dramatizes the unbearable, the overwhelming, and the unthinkable experiences of the child. Reverie soothes and comforts the troubled child but also empowers the child with new abilities to understand, tolerate and regulate their reactions to the ordinary challenges of daily living and great stresses of acute dramas.
We are all in need of maternal reverie to help us integrate what happened on Friday in the classrooms of Sandy Hook.
What lives in our soul that can be — dare I use the word — cultivated by the violent death of 27 individuals?
Let us NOT cultivate hatred, terror, helplessness, revenge which are so easy to feel.
Sympathy is not empathy. Sympathy is kind. Sympathy soothes. Prayers are not empathy. Prayers comfort. Sympathy and prayerfulness, are beautiful and easy to feel in our souls.
But empathy, feeling the pain of others, is love, objective,mature, and filled with grace. Empathy, so difficult to feel, is a moral strength-builder. There is no selfishness, no personal gesture, no kindness, soothing, or comfort in empathy, just love given in freedom without prejudice or agenda.
Here’s what I ask myself in my strong moments since Friday when I risk empathy. Can I feel what the children, living and dead, of Sandy Hook felt as my own? Can I feel the agony of the grieving parents as my own? Can I feel the objectivity of the first responders, the medical examiners, the reporters — those whose job it is to deal with the physical reality of this kind of violence — as my own? Can I feel your fear and your sadness just at learning about this event as my own? Can I feel the responsibility of President Obama shedding tears for a nation as my own? And, ultimately, do I have the strength to feel the dark, heinous, burning despair and madness of Adam Lanza as my own?
The mystery or paradox of empathy appears when empathic feelings chosen in love become a greater spiritualized love. Empathy cannot be seduced or manipulated by evil, in fact, even the briefest moment of empathy diminishes the power and influence of evil.
It is empathy that will change the future and redeem the past. Empathy comes from within the soul. You, in your highest self, choose empathy and the cosmos moves a breath toward universal and unconditional love. Empathy empowers us to inwardly reveal the deep meaning and lessons of the most harsh destiny.
I can write these words with conviction but I can only strive like you to manifest the thoughts behind them. For example:
I woke up this morning, thinking about the children’s parents looking at the Christmas gifts hidden on the shelf in the closet. The joy they felt when they bought the doll or the game that their 6/7 year old would love finding under the tree. What will they do with the gifts now? How will they deal with the unimaginable grief they experience just looking at a toy? I can hardly bear the pain of my thought and I can’t really feel the parent’s pain. So can I put my heart where my words are?
And the children, OMG their sweet beauty, the smiles, the potential, flood my senses with sadness. I find the wisdom, that although their small defenseless physical size and few years of life make me feel a huge grief, I know that spiritually, their human spirit, is eternal and as great as the spirit of each of us.
I have spent most of the day contemplating the deed of empathy hoping to find some greater understanding and hoping to share this little understanding with you, my dear friends. Please contemplate empathy from your own experience and share your thoughts as a comment on this post. Please forward it to others as it is only in many individuals striving to empathize that love, real love, free of drama and full of meaning, can heal our world.
With hopeful love,
Please share your thoughts or questions below in the comments and on Lynn’s blog page here.
Lynn Jericho writes, teaches, mentors, counsels and guides from a wisdom inspired by Waldorf Education and Rudolf Steiner. Her curriculum offerings of Imagine Self explore facets of becoming human. Known for her warmth and creativity, she makes sense of the complexities of the developing soul. Her Inner Christmas messages are read by more than 8,000 people around the world and her book, Six Ways to Celebrate Christmas and Celebrate You, brings new understanding to the cosmic, social and personal meanings of the holiday. Lynn was a cofounder of a birthing center and a pioneer parent of the Waldorf School of Princeton. Her newest adventure is being a grandmother. To learn more about her work, click here.