Earlier this week, I saw the most heart-warming interaction in Providence’s Olneyville neighborhood. A man’s car had died, and he was standing in-between the driver door and the car, trying to push it out of the way of oncoming traffic when a man who appeared to be homeless came running over to help. At the same time, two men in a truck gave up their place in a nearby drive-thru line and hopped out of their vehicle to also help push this sedan out of the road.
All this, for a person they had never met before.
It’s hard to imagine anything that makes a community function better than working together, a willingness to lend a helping hand and be of service to others. Especially now, with our country so divided after a bitter presidential election season, witnessing these simple acts of kindness in my home city helps to restore a sense hope that healing and community-building and acts of kindness are not only possible, they are happening, all around us, every single day.
What I saw in the street that morning was a powerful example of empathy – the ability to stand in someone’s shoes and see things from their perspective. As career coach Kathy Caprino writes in Forbes, empathy is the key to raising a healthy, self-confident and self-reliant child. Whether in the classroom, community or workplace, empathy is often the difference between people and communities who are functionally working together for the greater good or dysfunctional groups of people who are disconnected from each other even as they try to work toward the same goal. The latter makes achieving positive results very challenging.
In our schools, adults teach and model empathy to children so that the building becomes a safe space for all students. Teachers strive to foster a stronger sense of connection and community, and to plant early seeds of essential life-long skills like communication, problem solving, team-building and compassion. These skills are needed now, more than ever – in companies, communities, neighborhoods and families. As our children grow up they are at increased risk for un-learning the skill of connecting with other people, as smartphones and video games and social media absorb more and more of their attention.
You see it this DIS-engagement around you, but it isn’t just our youth. How often have you seen another mother greet her kids off the school bus with her eyes fixed down in her phone instead of up toward her children – and with a shock of recognition realize that could be you, indeed, has been you, on previous afternoon pick ups? How many times have you been in mid-sentence with your colleague at the office, only to realize you have lost him completely as he gets distracted by a text notification that flashes on his phone?
The good news is, empathy is a teachable and learn-able skill. And it’s never too late to cultivate some more of it.
We will explore empathy, and many other valuable life skills in our upcoming Spring Intensive Mindfulness training program starting March 4-5 and finishing April 29-30.
Don’t be put off by the title – these meaningful and fun retreats is designed for everyone – beginner, occasional practitioner and expert alike, that will include multiple opportunities to explore meditation and mindfulness activities, as well as time for reflection and journaling. Together, we will learn about some of the science behind these techniques, and we will build a supportive community to sustain your practice. You will take away new self-care habits and an ability to share your newly honed skills in the classroom, boardroom and family room.
Early registration is available until February 15th. Reserve your spot today.