I suppose one of the most famous messages from the 20th century was a transmission from space to NASA control: “Houston, we have a problem.” I want to invoke that same statement in regards to the current state of things in our society. We have a problem. We have a seeming lack of empathy and kindness that is having a devastating effect on all of us.
We no longer talk to each other, we talk at each other. We talk to make our perspective known, without engaging others to hear and discover their perspective. This is a dangerous place to be, when we cannot allow ourselves to hear others, to empathize with their feelings and how they see the world. You and I have heard it said time and time again, “No one is all right or all wrong.” If this is true, then shouldn’t we listen to others around us to hear how they feel, what they think? Shouldn’t we listen, not with the intent of how to counter what is said, but with our heart so we can try to understand another person’s feelings and thinking?
I wonder if when we talk with one another if we can employ statements like, “I feel; I think; I believe?” Now these can become loaded statements needing some unpacking and thought. When we say “I feel,” that is probably the one statement that cannot be countered. We feel what we feel. Notice, I didn’t say we should say something like, “when you say/do X, you make me feel.” No one makes us feel anything, we feel what we feel. True enough, things that are said and done to us can elicit feelings within us, but those feelings are a result of what is going on inside of us. When someone says something to us, how we feel is a result of our own internal emotions that have lots and lots of experiences which contribute to our feelings. We have to own that and come to understand that. Its an ongoing process within each of us. Still what we feel belongs to us. When we express what we think or believe in conversation with others, those statements lend themselves to needing validation. We don’t just think or believe something, we think or believe based on what we know to be true, what we know to be factual, what we have heard or read.
I started out saying we have a problem, we are lacking empathy and kindness in our interactions with one another. This is especially true when it comes to relating with those who hold different perspectives, views, opinions, thoughts, beliefs than ours. We have to find a way to try and understand each other and then govern ourselves accordingly. This is the empathetic thing to do. If I know you don’t eat pork for whatever reason, would it be empathetic of me to invite you to dinner and only serve pork? No, I may not feel pork is a bad or unacceptable food, but because I have built a relationship with you, I will offer a substitute for you so that we can still share a meal together. Being kind, I won’t denigrate your food choice, I will find ways to allow you to have your choice and provide for my own choice.
Somehow we believe being kind is about not upsetting the other, or causing the other to feel uncomfortable. That’s not at all what kindness is about. Kindness is saying and doing things in the gentlest manner possible. If your behavior is not acceptable, kindness doesn’t dictate I just accept how you act. Kindness is also not just simply removing you from my environment. Kindness is approaching you and telling you how I feel when you say or do certain things. I don’t have to do it in a hateful or vicious way. Being kind is not “sweeping the issue under the rug.” Kindness is speaking the truth in love. I don’t have to be hateful or ugly in response to unacceptable behavior or speech. I can, with honesty, speak about my feelings. I can state my thoughts and beliefs, with the underlying support, and do so without attempting to belittle or speak down to you.
What would it look like if we employed more empathy and kindness in our world? Would there be fewer misunderstandings? Would there be less animosity? Would the felt need to resort to violence, angry speech, denigration of others, occur less and less?
Somewhere I read about being my brother’s/sister’s keeper. In Genesis 4:9, in response to a question from God, Cain asks, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” God doesn’t answer Cain in that moment. But when we read in Matthew 25:31-40, Jesus is telling us about what it will be like on Judgement Day. It is clear, whoever crosses our path, is our sister or brother. We are responsible for how we interact with them, how we speak to them, how we treat them. Just because I disagree with what you think or believe, doesn’t absolve me of my responsibility to show kindness and empathy.
You might say of me, as John Lennon sang in Imagine, “You may say I’m a dreamer.” Here’s the thing, what do we lose by being kind or empathetic toward those who are different from us? My response is, nothing. What do we gain? We gain the love of God in our lives, and the possibility the world might change ever so slightly because of our kindness.
May God give us hearts which exude kindness and empathy. May God give us ears that will listen attentively to others so we can have an understanding of them and what they feel, think and believe. May God give us a willingness to be the instruments of change in our world.
Your fellow traveler on the Way,