Empathy

Jacquelynn carries a lot of stress in her forearms and calves.   We all do similar things; my stress surfaces mainly in my stomach in the form of digestive issues. I’d have to theorize that carrying it muscularly is probably healthier.

Anyway, I massage her calves and forearms before bed most nights to help her relax and drift off to sleep. Typically, she’s out within moments.

For all the time we’ve been together (16 years next month!), Jacquelynn has marveled at my ability to locate, just with a touch, any “knot” or stress point in her muscles. To me, it always feels like a big walnut just below the skin, but apparently not everyone perceives such things the way I do. I chalk it up to empathy.

I’ve always been naturally very empathic. I feel the sorrow or joy or discomfort of others sometimes more keenly than my own. Even if I have a customer across the desk from me who is uncomfortable negotiating a car purchase, I sometimes feel just as fidgety as they, just by osmosis.

I can even trace the genesis of this strange sort of communication to a specific event in my childhood. In seventh grade, my dad overheard my buddy Jeff and myself referring to another kid as “trumpet ears”. In a gentle way, Dad asked me how I feel when the kids call me names (which happened a LOT), and if I wanted the boy I was calling “trumpet ears” to feel the same way. This is a normal fatherly thing to say, repeated in endless family sitcoms over the decades, but it struck home so hard to me that day that recall it a vividly 35 years later as if it had happened yesterday.

This is not to say that I was never cruel again, or that I was suddenly polite and considerate to every child I encountered from that point forward, but I was irreversibly sensitive to everything that I said or heard from then on. I always knew when I had hurt someone’s feelings and I always shared that hurt.   Probably one reason why I didn’t make all that great a Marine, truth be told.

Lately, I’ve been meditating on the concepts of compassion and empathy (which I see as much the same things, honestly). What changes could be made to this world if the simple concept of feeling what others feel were universal? We ALL have the capacity for it, so what would happen if we all used it, just for a moment? If the armed robber could feel the fear in the cashier’s heart? If the bomber could experience the loss their victims’ families suffer? If we could all feel the desperation and shame of the beggar we just walked past on the street?

The Dalai Lama once said that if we could get all the children in the world to meditate on the concept of compassion for one hour a week, in one generation we’d eradicate violence. Completely.   If we could just feel what we’re doing to one another, we couldn’t help but change.

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