When natural disasters like tornadoes or earthquakes strike a community, people urgently rush in to offer aid. It matters not if the dusty hand reaching out from the rubble is a Republican and the helping hand extended is a Democrat. Nor does it matter if either is black or white, male or female, or Christian or Jew. Concerned citizens come together to assist in any way they can.
These humanitarians ask no questions. They don’t measure the recipient against any preconceived bias before offering their help. It never crosses their mind to ask if they agree or disagree with their beliefs. No judgment enters the picture. Instead, through their shared humanity, empathy is the natural response.
What if we responded with the same level of compassion toward our neighbors during more common, less threatening challenges?
Glimpses of Humanity
Our humanity is a choice born of empathy for others through the lens of our own being. In matters of life and death, pretenses are stripped away and glimpses of humanity rise to the surface.
At our core, we are all human with the same basic need to survive. We desire to love and be loved. We want what’s best for our families. When it comes down to what really matters, we’re far more alike than we are different.
In times of crisis, we see with 20/20 vision what’s truly important. But it doesn’t require a catastrophe to prompt us to exhibit empathy and reveal our humanity.
The Daily Challenge
On the average day, we can quickly get hung up on our differences and push these values to the back burner. But why? Differences of opinion are to be expected. That’s part of what makes us unique, right?
What we sometimes forget is that those conflicting points of view can actually lead us to solve our most perplexing problems. As each individual brings his or her ideas to the table and we consider alternative approaches, new possibilities open up.
After we listen to expressed beliefs unlike our own, it doesn’t necessarily mean we will agree. But the very act of listening and also respecting those with differing opinions builds connection and understanding. And it also increases the likelihood of finding and building on common ground.
Lack of Exposure
Our development is confined within the borders of what we’re exposed to. The culture we grow up in and those we spend time with are significant influences. For better or worse, we’re conditioned to believe the way we do.
The lack of exposure to other ideas, possibilities, and diversity can hold us back. Because we don’t like to stand out from our tribe, we find ourselves absorbed in the rhetoric of the group and don’t consider there could be another way of looking at matters.
The Danger of Being Too Inflexible
We don’t like to think we’re wrong, but there’s a danger in being too inflexible.
If we are too rigid and close our minds to even hearing others out, we not only disrespect the person but create a lack of trust. We begin to view them as the enemy and possibly miss the very answer we’re looking for.
In this environment, no one benefits and the problem remains unsolved.
A Different Set of Questions
Until we’re open enough to really listen, explore alternatives, and find common ground, solutions to some of our toughest problems will remain blocked.
Perhaps we’d benefit from asking ourselves a series of tough, thought-provoking questions like:
- Could I be wrong? What am I missing?
- Is the enemy the person with opposing beliefs or is the enemy my own limited thinking?
- What would happen if I was as eager to listen as I was to voice my opinion?
- How did I arrive at my viewpoint?
- If I was in his position, how would I see this situation?
- What if I’d been exposed to a different upbringing?
- What if I was born in another country? Or on the other side of town?
- What if my skin was a different color?
- What if I was born the opposite gender?
- What would I risk to save my family and give them a better life?
- What if I saw the person in front of me or on the other side of the world as my sister?
- What if I recognized the divine within her? And what if I recognized the divine within myself?
This self-exploration can break down the door of a closed mind if we allow it.
Building Connection and Solving Problems
Our country is deeply divided on many fronts today. Our workplaces, communities, families, and friends have serious problems. We have serious problems ourselves. And it would be a shame to sacrifice the sacred for the shallow.
To find much-needed solutions requires that we ask difficult questions, brainstorm possibilities, and negotiate in good faith. It necessitates that we listen and consider what others have to offer. We are, remember, one in our shared life experience.
Empathy resides within each of us. If we can get to know our fellow man soul to soul and suspend the biased conditioning, we might just find a shared connection, a deeper respect, and wisdom to pass on to future generations.
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