2017 word of the year: empathy

Empathy

We Get What We Give

If 2016 did anything exceedingly well it was showing us that though we have made so much beautiful progress as humanity, we still have a long way to go. Globally, we saw individuals, communities, and governments wrestling with polarizing issues and grave divisions with imminent consequences. How are we to respond to global immigration issues? How does that change with the refugee crisis our world is experiencing? Can anyone truly feel safe amongst the outpouring of shootings occurring immediately around us? How do I love and/or attempt to understand someone with drastically different political views than my own?

If you’re anything like me, you seek answers and new learning in a variety of ways, but most of all you like listening to podcasts. 🙂 It seemed to me that nearly every podcast I listened to over the last part of 2016 addressed the palpable division felt by all and explored what we are to do about it. One consistent theme I heard, and that which resonated with me the most (or perhaps the one I simply want to believe in)… EMPATHY.

No example represented this concept more clearly than a segment on the TED Radio Hour show titled “Reconciliation” (listen to the whole thing, but you can fast forward to 45 min. if you want to hear this specific part). It hit me so hard, that I found myself crying while I was commuting to work on my bicycle. I will pose the same question the interviewee — Elizabeth Lesser — asked during the show, “Have you ever heard of Antoinette Tuff?”

Antoinette worked the front desk at an elementary where a 20 year old man came toting a AK-47 and vocal ambitions to cause harm. She immediately called 9-1-1, but what happened next was extraordinary. While on the phone with emergency response she entered the room where the man was holding students hostage, and she began talking with him. She shared how she was recently struggling and had considered taking her own life. She reminded him that he wasn’t alone in the struggle. She met him with love and she empathized with all that he must have been going through. He eventually gave up his gun when the authorities came.

Though this story took place in 2013, the message it shares couldn’t be more relevant. We’re not called to fix the situation or change someone’s mind, but we need to hear them out and do what we can to understand their position or their perspective. That is what breaks down walls and allows for a dialogue. However, it’s incredibly important to note that it does require one person to take the first step, to hold out the olive branch and offer their sincere interest.

This is my hope for 2017. That we can start to lead with empathy, so that our perspective as a society can expand and so that when (read “if”) we do have the opportunity to speak our words will be heard.

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{Note: You can read more about Antoinette Tuff’s story HERE.}

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