Monday, April 21, 2014

The Fourth Step ~ Empathy

In packing to move to St. Louis, I've been sorting through all kinds of stuff I need to toss or give away.  Just this morning, on this third Monday when I promised to post new questions each month, I found two sets of audio cassettes about compassion that I had forgotten someone gave me:
  1. Awakening Compassion: Meditation Practice for Difficult Times ~ by Pema Chödrön, 1995
  2. The Only Way: From Cruelty to Compassion Through Inner Transformation ~ by Gerald May, 2002
Too bad I didn't find these last week, before I drove to and from St. Louis.  The trip is about eight hours in each direction.  I was well on my way before I realized I should have brought something to listen to while driving, especially since radio reception is spotty most of the way.  These tapes would have been perfect.


1.  Commenting on the futility of the Buddha's father's attempt to shield him from suffering, Armstrong writes, "As long as we close our minds to the pain that presses in upon us on all sides, we remain imprisoned in delusion, because this artificial existence bears no relation to reality" (p. 91).  What defenses do you use to shield yourself from suffering?  Do these defenses help or hinder your capacity for compassion?

2.  "Art calls us to recognize our pain and aspirations and to open our minds to others.  Art helps us — as it helped the Greeks — to realize that we are not alone; everybody else is suffering" (p. 98).  Discuss a piece of art, a performance, book, or movie that has helped you develop empathy toward others.

3.  Armstrong shares the story of Patty Anglin who "always claimed that the misery she experienced in a harsh boarding school, where she had learning difficulties, prepared her for her life's work" caring for children abandoned by their parents.  Was your choice of an avocation or vocation influenced by difficulties you exp;erienced?  Share your story.


1.  Spend a day "tuning into" how people around you are feeling.

2.  It is often difficult to witness suffering and to engage with someone in distress, especially when we are preoccupied with our own concerns.  Notice, over the next month, when you want to turn away.  Instead, remember how it feels to be hurt, depressed, angry, helpless, and distraught.  Then remember what it was like to have someone be kind and caring toward you.  Offer that person a kind gesture (pp. 101-102).

3.  Follow the instructions on page 102 to add three more stages to the meditation on the "immeasurable minds of love."

Facebook (added 4-24-14)

I shared this story with Donna, Shirley, Mary, and Alison on Facebook.  Let's include our responses here, so we can preserve them.  What do any of you readers think of what this woman did?
Jessica Eaves from Guthrie (Oklahoma - USA) recently had her wallet stolen by a man while she was grocery shopping.  Most people in that situation would immediately get the authorities involved, but she found a way to resolve her problem herself.

"I saw this gentleman down the aisle from me," Jessica tells us.  "He walked behind me, and when I got a couple of aisles over, I realized my wallet was gone."

"I spotted him in a crowded aisle and approached him," she continues.  "I'm a pretty out-there personality, but I was quiet and calm."

"I said to him, 'I think you have something of mine.  I'm gonna give you a choice.  You can either give me my wallet and I'll forgive you right now, and I'll even take you to the front and pay for your groceries."

The alternative?  Jessica reporting him to the police.

"He reached into his hoodie pocket and gave me my wallet," she recalls, adding that the man was extremely grateful for her help and forgiveness.

"He started crying when we walked up to the front," she says.  "He said he was sorry about 20 times by the time we went from the pickle aisle to the front.  He told me he was desperate."

She spent $27 on his groceries, which included milk, bread, bologna, crackers, soup, and cheese.  "The last thing he said was, 'I'll never forget tonight.  I'm broke, I have kids, I'm embarrassed, and I'm sorry.'"

"Some people are critical because I didn't turn him in, but sometimes all you need is a second chance," says Jessica.

She adds, "My brother and I lost my dad to suicide when I was seven, and I remember him telling me years ago that no matter what I become in life, to always, always be kind."

Source: Yahoo News
— with Lisa N Troy SmithWard.
Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life ~ by Karen Armstrong, 2010


Bonnie Jacobs said...

The picture of this little dog is the epitome of images showing suffering that I've seen lately. I included it in this fourth step in order to talk about EMPATHY in Action #2. This little dog helps me remember how it feels to be helpless and miserable. Just look at him! What I feel is empathy for this little fur person.

Shirley said...

2. "Art calls us to recognize our pain and aspirations and to open our minds to others. Art helps us — as it helped the Greeks — to realize that we are not alone; everybody else is suffering" (p. 98). Discuss a piece of art, a performance, book, or movie that has helped you develop empathy toward others.

The discussion of art as a means of developing an awareness of the suffering of others which results in empathy toward others is one that I relate to. Many books that I've read have succeeded in this. Two that I think of as I type this are The Grapes of Wrath and To Kill a Mockingbird. I found the empathy these books share to be deep both when I first read them as a child as well as adult re-reads.

The use of mythology to achieve this is something I have only become aware of in recent years. (My sons have been enthusiastic about mythology from grade school on. When I asked my oldest son how he knew so much about the various mythological figures, he calmly explained that he learned about them from watching wrestling--a habit I had been less than enthusiastic about. I think that their early interest in mythology led to their interest in theatre. (My youngest is currently playing Caliban in our local Civic Theatre's production of The Tempest.) Now that I am more aware of the role mythology plays in helping individuals and societies develop empathy, I have increasing difficulty in remembering the characters and events. :(

Shirley said...

I hadn't realized that you are moving to St. Louis. You are getting closer to Kansas!

Bonnie Jacobs said...

Yes, Shirley, I'm hoping to move by mid-June. Part of it depends on when an apartment is available where I want to live. I was in St. Louis last week to take a look at the apartments in the University City area of town — and I like it.

Years ago, I traveled with Donna (AuntyDon) to Manhattan, Kansas, to visit another of her friends who lived there. We drove through Topeka on our way to Manhattan, which is to the west of you. Maybe someday you and I will have a real face-to-face visit.

Bonnie Jacobs said...

I found a short article (blog post) about self-compassion and empathy that may interest you. Andrea Chilcote, the Spirited Woman blogger, suggests we ask ourselves: "In what way does this behavior I'm judging in someone else remind me of something I don't like about myself?" Read the rest of it at:

AuntyDon said...

2. "Art calls us to recognize our pain and aspirations and to open our minds to others. Art helps us — as it helped the Greeks — to realize that we are not alone; everybody else is suffering" (p. 98). Discuss a piece of art, a performance, book, or movie that has helped you develop empathy toward others.

I think all forms of art touch me in some way and make me aware of how to treat people. I read non-fiction to learn about ideas, to grow intellectually, but I read biography to learn how to relate, or not relate, to others. As I read fiction and watch television drama, I find myself asking myself who I relate to most. Subconsciously I think I am rating myself on a compassion scale. I identify characters with people I know.

Bonnie Jacobs said...

Toward the end of this video, the narrator says, "Empathy is boundless."

Bonnie Jacobs said...

It's almost time for another "step" in our study of compassion. On Monday, I'll post The Fifth Step ~ Mindfulness.

I notice we haven't posted many comments this month. I'm not sure why the rest of you aren't saying much, but I'm busy packing (and discarding what I'll likely never use again) before moving to St. Louis at the beginning of June. I have only a couple of weeks left to get it done.

My comment for today about compassion is to share what I found in my email today from Cool People Care about actions we could take:

"Show appreciation to the every-day things in life. It could mean saying thank you to the cleaning crew at your office, smiling at the people you sit across [from] on the subway, or being kind to your waiter at a restaurant. Kindness act of the day: Compliment a waiter or waitress, then go tell their boss or manager how great the service was. Or better yet, tip the waiter or waitress 100%, especially if you're a regular customer."

That last is a bit out of range for me, since I'm on Social Security, but tipping better than usual is possible.