The Dying Art of Empathy

By Anthony Gold

A farmer had some puppies he wanted to sell. So he created a sign advertising the pups and set about nailing the sign to a post on the edge of his farm.

As he was hammering the last nail into the post, he felt a tug on his overalls. “Mister,” said a young boy, “I want to buy one of your puppies.”

“Well,” said the farmer as he rubbed the sweat off the back of his neck, “these puppies come from fine parents and cost a good deal of money.”

The boy dropped his head for a moment, then reached into his pockets and pulled out all the money he had. “Is two dollars and fifty cents enough?”

“Sure,” said the farmer with a compassionate grin. “Here, Dolly!” he called out. From the doghouse ran Dolly followed by four little balls of fur. The little boy pressed his body against the fence, eyes wide with anticipation and heart filled with joy.

As the dogs made their way over, the little boy noticed something else stirring inside the doghouse. Slowly another little ball of fur appeared. This one noticeably smaller. Down the hill it slid, and then in an awkward manner the little pup began hobbling toward the other dogs.

“I want that one!”, cried the little boy, pointing to the runt.

The farmer knelt down at the boy’s side and said, “Son, you don’t want that puppy. He will never be able to run and play with you like these other dogs would.”

With that the little boy stepped back from the fence, reached down, and began rolling up one leg of his pants. In doing so, he revealed a steel brace running down both sides of his leg, attaching itself to a specially made shoe. Looking up at the farmer, he said, “You see, sir, I don’t run too well myself, and he will need someone who understands.”

While this anecdote has been told in many different forms and cultures, its message is consistent: we all need someone who understands.

Our ability to relate to others is one the greatest opportunities for connection, and yet one we all-too-often fail to realize. Our focus on our own concerns, issues, stressors, and motivators very often precludes us from truly relating to others. Subconsciously underlying so many our of thoughts of others is this: what’s in it for me? If it can be of benefit, then it might interest me, otherwise not.

Many “self-help” gurus and guides suggest surrounding yourself with people of “high energy”. The implication is that there are “levels” of people, and we would be better served in the midst of positive people versus those who bring us down.

Of course, the irony is that no one but yourself can bring you down. And there aren’t “levels” of people.

But the belief that there are such distinctions leads to the death of true empathy.

Imagine being able to see the need for understanding that resides within everyone. Such sight leads not only to an outpouring of love but to an infinite reservoir of joy. It is only by cutting ourselves off from others that pain ensues. Yet if we exclude just one person, we exclude everyone. For true empathy, true understanding, excludes no one.

As Wayne Dyer poignantly said, “Whenever you have a thought that excludes or judges anyone else, you aren’t defining them. You’re defining yourself as someone who needs to judge others.”

In fact, it is very easy for us to relate to people we like. The real opportunity is connecting with our “button pushers” – the people who challenge us. Or the “excluded” – the people we feel offer us nothing of benefit. Then we move beyond the ego’s version of empathy (which always seeks to join in order to imprison) and into the realm of true empathy – stepping outside ourselves and genuinely connecting with another person.

Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other’s eyes for an instant? -Henry David Thoreau

If we truly understood others, would we treat them differently? The failure to see others is nothing but a projection of our own self-perception.

In your brother you but see yourself. (W-pI.158.10)

Join us in Monday’s class where we’ll explore the dying art of empathy and steps we can take to reverse distorted perception and experience the incredible joy that results from true sight. I look forward to seeing you then.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *