Tag Archives: empathy

“Tao Teh Ching: Chapter 27” by Lao Tzu

TaoTehChing

Good walking leaves no track behind it;
Good speech leaves no mark to be picked at;
Good calculation makes no use of counting-slips;
Good shutting makes no use of bolt and bar,
And yet nobody can undo it;
Good tying makes no use of rope and knot,
And yet nobody can untie it.

Hence, the Sage is always good at saving men,
And therefore nobody is abandoned;
Always good at saving things,
And therefore nothing is wasted.

This is called “following the guidance of the Inner Light.”

Hence, good men are teachers of bad men,
While bad men are the charge of good men.
Not to revere one’s teacher,
Not to cherish one’s charge,
Is to be on the wrong road, however intelligent one may be.
This is an essential tenet of the Tao.

This is an interesting passage and begs the question: what does it mean to save? It appears that a sage is efficient at saving both people and things.

The saving of things is something dear to me. In our consumer society, things are too often used and discarded. Items have built-in obsolescence so that they break and cost more to fix than they do to replace. Unfortunately, this path is not sustainable, and if we do not change how we use and reuse our valuable and limited resources, we will reach a point where we will no longer be able to continue with our current economic model.

The other act of saving regards people, and this immediately kicked up negative associations of proselytizers knocking on my door and attempting to convert me to some form of religious doctrine. But I do not think that is the kind of saving that Lao Tzu was talking about here. I suspect that he is instructing the sage to practice compassion and empathy, to not be judgmental of others, and to serve as an example of how to live in balance with nature and spirit.

Essentially, I can sum this passage up as an instruction to help other people while not being wasteful.

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“Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living” by Krista Tippett

becomingwise

I picked this book up while at the Faith in Literature conference, where I was fortunate enough to attend two conversations with Krista Tippett, as well as a luncheon with her. She was so inspiring that I could not pass on the opportunity to acquire an autographed copy of her book. It was promptly placed at the top of the “to-be-read” pile.

The book is basically a collection of her thoughts along with snippets of conversations with spiritual thought leaders, activists, writers, and poets from her radio show, “On Being.” She divides the book into five main sections: Words, Flesh, Love, Faith, and Hope. There is so much wisdom in this book, that it is impossible for me to do it justice, so I will just share a few passages and my thoughts on them. The first one concerns the power of stories.

They touch something that is human in us and is probably unchanging. Perhaps this is why the important knowledge is passed through stories. It’s what holds culture together. Culture has a story, and every person in it participates in that story. The world is made up of stories; it’s not made up of facts.

(p. 26)

I had a professor in college who specialized in Irish literature, and I remember him telling me that stories mattered. That has stayed with me throughout my life. There is power in stories and poems. They convey something about the human experience that cannot be expressed in a spreadsheet or a graph. It saddens me when I talk to people who say they never read fiction or poetry, because they don’t have the time or they only want to read “factual” books. These individuals miss out on something unique to the human experience, a communal sharing that our society desperately needs.

Growing up, I connected to the revolutionary spirit of the 1960s and did my best to carry the torch of social change. But after a while, I became disillusioned, and Krista captures what it is that has changed between the 60s and today.

A comparison was made with the 1960s, another moment of social turmoil, including many assassinations. A journalist said that he thought the difference between the 1960s and now was that even though there was incredible tumult and violence, it was at the very same time a period of intense hope. People could see that they were moving toward goals, and that’s missing now.

(p. 156)

It is hard to remain hopeful when we are bombarded with negative stories via social media and network news stations. I really make an effort to stay positive, but sometimes I can’t help feeding in to the hype. One of my short-term goals is to try to be more positive and hopeful.

I have always been fascinated by both science and mysticism, which is why the following quote resonates with me.

Both the scientist and the mystic live boldly with the discoveries they have made, all the while anticipating better discoveries to come.

(p. 186)

What I love about science and mysticism is that they both seek to illuminate the hidden mysteries of existence. There was a time when the mystical arts and the sciences were aligned. That changed for a while and the two were at odds. But lately, I see the paths converging again, and I think that it will ultimately be the unification of the scientific with the spiritual that will usher in the next stage of human evolution and ultimately save us from ourselves.

With all the negativity, divisiveness, and hostility that I have seen this past year, this book was exactly what I needed to shift my perspective back to the positive. Too often my cynicism kicks in, but Krista reminds me that there is always hope and that we should never stop striving to improve ourselves and the world around us. I want to close with one more quote that really captures the importance of this book, which I hope you will read soon.

Our problems are not more harrowing than the ravaging depressions and wars of a century ago. But our economic, demographic, and ecological challenges are in fact existential. I think we sense this in our bones, though it’s not a story with commonly agreed-upon contours. Our global crises, the magnitude of the stakes for which we are playing, could signal the end of civilization as we’ve known it. Or they might be precisely the impetus human beings perversely need to do the real work at hand: to directly and wisely address the human condition and begin to grow it up.

(p. 14)

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“Tao Teh Ching: Chapter 23” by Lao Tzu

TaoTehChing

Only simple and quiet words will ripen of themselves.
For a whirlwind does not last a whole morning,
Nor does a sudden shower last a whole day.
Who is their author? Heaven-and-Earth!
Even Heaven-and-Earth cannot make such violent things last long;
How much truer is it of the rash endeavours of men?

Hence, he who cultivates the Tao is one with the Tao;
He who practices Virtue is one with Virtue;
And he who courts after Loss is one with Loss.

To be one with the Tao is to be a welcome accession to the Tao;
To be one with Virtue is to be a welcome accession to Virtue;
To be one with Loss is to be a welcome accession to Loss.

Deficiency of faith on your part
Entails faithlessness on the part of others.

I suppose it is no coincidence that I read this passage today. I have been thinking a lot about the power of words lately, especially in light of the vitriol associated with the recent election. It seems that people feel the need to rant and rage louder and louder about their indignation, thinking that this is the way to foster change. It is not. No one responds to harsh words the way you hope they will. Softer, empathetic words have a deeper impact. They are accepted and plant the seeds of change within another person. The violent storm washes the seeds away; it does not nourish the seeds.

The part of this passage that puzzled me at first was the meaning of the word Loss. It seemed that Loss was something desirable, but it took me a little while to figure out why. I think Lao Tzu meant the loss of the ego, of the self-righteous indignation that causes individuals to speak harshly against others. This will definitely draw you away from the path. So before you lash out verbally at someone, take a breath, relax, and try to lose some of the anger and indignation that is at the root of the harsh words. By doing so, you will be a better communicator and a bringer of positive change.

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Faith in Literature: Contemporary Writers of the Spirit

faithinlit

This past weekend was one that was filled with gratitude and inspiration: gratitude for friends in my life and inspiration from listening to writers who use the written word as a way to express spirituality.

My friend Rick Chess is a poet and professor at University of North Carolina in Asheville, and he was one of the organizers of the Faith in Literature festival. He graciously invited my wife and me to attend some amazing sessions, including two conversations hosted by Krista Tippett that were recorded for possible broadcast on her “On Being” radio show, as well as an intimate luncheon with Krista and other distinguished guests. I am extremely grateful to Rick and thankful that he is a part of our lives.

The first conversation occurred on Friday evening, between Krista and poet Marilyn Nelson. One of the themes of the discussion that resonated with me was about the connection between poetry and silence. Marilyn explained that poetry taps into the silence within us, that it comes from silence and evokes silence. This strengthens the importance of poetry in an age where people are increasingly afraid of their inner silence and attempt to escape that silence through technology. Marilyn and Krista also discussed poetry as a form of contemplation and how poetry can help individuals rediscover reality.

On Saturday afternoon, my wife and I attended a luncheon at the chancellor’s house where Ms. Tippett and the other writers were in attendance. The food was delicious, and it felt nice to be included with such talented and spiritual individuals.

After lunch, we attended a conversation between several writers, which was very inspiring and prompted us to purchase several books and get them signed.

Finally, the closing event on Saturday evening was a conversation between Krista Tippett and Pulitzer Prize winner Isabel Wilkerson, discussing Wilkerson’s book The Warmth of Other Suns, which details the Great Migration through the lives of three protagonists. This was such a powerful conversation, particularly in regard to current racial tensions, the ongoing refugee crisis, and the need for “radical empathy.” I loved the way they described empathy as “not pity or sympathy, but the ability to get inside another person and understand how they feel.” I think if we all started practicing radical empathy, the world would be a different place.

Needless to say, my pile of books to be read has increased over the weekend. Here is the list of books I bought, all of which were signed by the authors. I hope to share my thoughts on these in the near future.

  • Tekiah by Rick Chess
  • The Beautiful Possible by Amy Gottlieb
  • Kohl & Chalk by Shadab Zeest Hashmi
  • Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living by Krista Tippett
  • The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson

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“Tao Teh Ching: Chapter 7” by Lao Tzu

TaoTehChing

Heaven lasts long, and Earth abides.
What is the secret of their durability?
Is it not because they do not live for themselves
That they can live so long?

Therefore, the Sage wants to remain behind,
But finds himself at the head of others;
Reckons himself out,
But finds himself safe and secure.
Is it not because he is selfless
That his Self is realised?

It’s kind of an oxymoron that self-realization only occurs when you shut off your self-importance and self-obsession. You must lose the ego in order to find your true self.

This makes me think of the spiritual principles of charity, compassion, empathy, and service. When you turn away from the cycle of chasing after personal gains and shift your focus to things outside yourself, something happens internally. There is a spiritual kindling and you realize that you are more than just your self; you are part of a larger whole that existed before you were born and will exist after you are gone. And you become aware of a deeper meaning to your existence. I think this is the key to finding meaning and fulfillment in your life.

In our crazy lives, it is increasingly difficult to step outside our small world of the self. But doing so is of utmost importance, especially in these turbulent times.

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“On Anothers Sorrow” by William Blake

OnAnothersSorrow

This is the last poem in the Songs of Innocence. It is fairly long, so rather than include the text within the post, I’ll just provide a link to the online version for those who need.

On Anothers Sorrow: www.bartleby.com

I can sum this poem up with one word: empathy. And I think that it is important to note that this is a transitional poem, marking the shift from innocence to experience. For most people, that shift occurs when we become aware of the suffering of others and feel empathy for the first time. As innocent children, we are the center of our own universes. It is difficult, if not impossible, to free ourselves from our self-encapsulated egos and consider the inner turmoil of others. Once we do, we experience spiritual growth. It is an important moment in a person’s spiritual and psychological development and marks the transition into the world of adulthood.

At the end of the poem, Blake establishes a correlation between human empathy and divine empathy. If we as humans can share the suffering of others and support them in their times of anguish, then it stands to reason that God will be there for us in our times of need.

Think not, thou canst sigh a sigh,
And they maker is not by.
Think not, thou canst weep a tear,
And they maker is not near.

O! he gives to us his joy,
That our grief he may destroy
Till our grief is fled and gone
He doth sit by us and moan.

I would like to take this idea a little bit further. Personally, I feel that the ability to connect with another person, to share a person’s suffering, to feel empathy and compassion, and to unconditionally help that person is the most divine act that we as human beings are capable of. All the great spiritual teachers emphasize compassion and unconditional love as the key to spiritual growth. I feel that Blake is reinforcing that idea with this poem by stressing the importance of empathy for another person’s sorrow and by relating that feeling of empathy to God.

I confess, even though I had read these poems before, some numerous times, reading them again slowly and contemplating each one has given me a deeper insight into myself. I look forward to exploring the Songs of Experience now, as I am sure they will force me to take an even deeper look into myself and the world around me.

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Star Trek: Khan – Issue #4

StarTrekKhan_04This issue takes a big leap forward from the previous one. Khan awakens in a secret Federation facility with amnesia. He is told that his name is Lieutenant John Harrison and that he is a Federation soldier who was injured on a mission to the Klingon home planet of Kronos. He is retrained and sent to destroy the Klingon moon of Praxxis, which he successfully does. As he watches the satellite explode, he experiences a flash of memory as he recalls his true self. The issue ends with him being called back to the base.

There are no “deep or profound passages” in this issue, but it is well-written and the artwork is good. The story moves along nicely and it ties the comic storyline in with the Star Trek: Into Darkness film. I have to say, though, that since Khan is such a fascinating villain, this adds another dimension to his character, one that inspires empathy. Khan is manipulated and used as a tool to carry out the violent desires of others, and as a result, he feels anger and resentment. Who wouldn’t? Any one of us would have the same reaction if we discovered we were lied to about who we are and coerced into carrying out the will of others.

I really don’t have anything else to say about this issue. Keeping this post short and sweet. Thanks for reading!

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