There is a Native American parable about an elder talking to his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people. He said, “My son, the battle is between two wolves inside us all. One is full of hatred, envy, jealousy, greed, criticism and arrogance. The other is full of peace, love, hope, gratitude, humility, compassion, and faith.” The grandson thought about this for a while and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf wins?” To which Grandfather simply replied, “The one you feed.” In this, the season when our North American communities tend to rev themselves up into a flurry of holiday preparations how can we keep our compass and grow our ability to be compassionate, loving? How can we create what we long for: a family that is connected, generous and loving?
Empathy is a word that gets used a lot these days. What IS it really? I like Brené Brown’s (of TED talk fame) definition: “the skill or ability to tap into our own experiences in order to connect with an experience someone is relating to us.” Empathy is what helps us sense that we are not alone in the world. It connects us to others and, as Brené Brown reminds us, it is the “antidote” to shame.
It turns out that the distinction between “I made a mistake” and “I am a mistake” is a big deal. When we make a mistake, we may feel bad, but we can learn from what we did. When we come to the erroneous conclusion that we are a mistake, that there is something wrong with us as a person or that we are defective, that becomes the main “learning.”