“Self-absorption in all its forms kills empathy, let alone compassion. When we focus on ourselves, our world contracts as our problems and preoccupations loom large. But when we focus on others, our world expands. Our own problems drift to the periphery of the mind and so seem smaller, and we increase our capacity for connection - or compassionate action.” ― Daniel Goleman, Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships
Without the feeling of empathy most of us would have died in infancy. Luckily, our mothers felt enough compassion, caring and connection to allow us to survive childhood. Without empathy, our ability to understand suffering, fear, happiness, joy and especially trust are nearly impossible. Empathy is the cornerstone of morality. Unless we can relate to other human beings as truly human like ourselves, we have no problem hurting, oppressing, torturing or killing them. Until we hear or read another persons story or relate to their personal journey they remain apart from us, "other". People who refuse or have an inability to see themselves in others are often inflexible, intolerant, arrogant, hypocritical, insecure or bullies. Taking the perspective of others not only allows us to perform heroic deeds such as saving the lives of abused children or animals, feeding the hungry, clothing the poor or providing shelter for the homeless, compassion increases our understanding of inequality. Seeing someone or something as less than ourselves is inequality. Inequality stems from feelings of privilege, power and superiority to other human beings, animals or even the environment, whether its a feeling of moral, cultural or income entitlement. Until we meet face to face, eye to eye, right where we are without judgement, and listen to each others stories in the present moment, we will continue to fail at creating the kind of "Utopian" communities we feel we deserve.
Empathy has the ability to narrow the chasm of injustice and in many cases of inequality it's our last hope. Empathy encourages us to reach out, support and help others rather than exploit, hold back, hold down or victimize. When we see ourselves in others, we come to realize that we are connected in the most intricate ways imaginable in our every day ordinary existence. Who sewed the buttons on the shirt you're wearing? Who assembled the smart phone you're texting with today? Who paved the road you traveled to work? Who designed the subway car you're riding? Who picked the strawberries in the cereal you're eating for breakfast? Who picked the coffee beans for your latte? Who drives the ambulance to our home when we dial 911? Who cares for the sick and dying patients in hospitals? Who protects our countries borders while we sleep? Who teaches our children to read and write? If as a society we truly desire peaceful action, harmony and positive change, "How would it feel to be you?" is a question we should reflect upon every single day of our lives.