If we were to explore where empathy comes from, we would discover that it emerges from understanding; putting oneself in another’s shoes. I was not surprised by a new CNN/ORC poll released this week that reports more white Americans believe in the color blindness of police and the justice system than do non-white Americans. It’s disheartening given the overwhelming evidence of bias against people of color.
These data suggest that the majority of us still resist broadening our “in-group” to include others of different races and socioeconomic classes. The fact is that most of us reserve our compassion for only those like us. I wonder how this can be when other polls report the majority of people identify themselves as religious, and all of the world’s major religious traditions hold compassion at their core.
There’s a simple explanation for this contradiction. Collectively, we’ve been conditioned by a social Darwinistic dogma that pits us against each other. Ironically, those most antagonistic to Darwinian evolution in schools most embrace the survival of the fittest perspective in their social, economic and political activities. As a result, a person’s values may not align with his/her thoughts, speech, and actions.
The holidays offer us all an opportunity to reflect on this misalignment. Some may dispute this, but I believe the spirit of the holidays is about connection–renewing our spiritual connection to ourselves, our family, friends, neighbors, and more broadly all beings and the planet as a whole. There’s so much we need to fix, and we won’t be able to make progress if we keep our compassion reserved for our narrow in-group.
The challenge then for us going forward is to try to align our hearts and minds more accurately with the compassion-based teachings of our wisdom traditions. If you are one who does not claim a religion or spiritual tradition, you can participate by analyzing this fact. The enjoyments in your life are dependent on others, therefore, the happiness of others also depends on you! So let’s all do as the Dalai Lama suggests, and ‘be wisely selfish.’ Meaning, be kind and help others because it’s good for us.
Should you feel moved to take up this “compassion challenge” for 2015, may I suggest a wonderful book to help you get started: 12-Steps to a Compassionate Life, by Karen Armstrong.
Wishing you a healthy and happy holiday and New Year!
PS: If you’re interested in taking up meditation and a mindfulness practice, we’re offering a holiday discount on our 13-month program for stress relief. The program comes with a lifetime membership to our online forum. The forum is where you can ask questions, get support, interact with others, meditate with me, receive teachings and participate in retreats and more. The discount runs until midnight on December 31st. Call 520-981-9911 or email firstname.lastname@example.org and mention this “Peace2015” in the subject line.