For a Jewish, middle class, Montrealer, I've spent a lot of my life in the company of the Buddha. I have had an 18-year on-again, off-again relationship with the Buddha. He's been by my side during the ups and downs. I never practiced Buddhism, but I have been a student of the religion for half my life.
They often behave how they think they should, not how they really feel. This kind of pretense can include false modesty, politeness and courtesy... but also pompousness and extroversion. Narcissists surround themselves with sycophants and admirers. The flipside of this is that narcissists have incredible envy of other people's successes.
Life is an ongoing exercise in empathy. As a human being, your job should be constantly learning how to make your own way in this world while causing as little harm as possible. Which is why I'm ultimately baffled when people wonder aloud if they're supposed to look at everything critically and worry about its potential to harm others. Because yes, that is exactly what you are supposed to do.
The thought of teaching my son Emilio to say "I'm sorry" in an effort to build and develop more empathy never crossed my mind. That's the reality of raising children with non-verbal autism; their parents are concentrating on having eye contact with their child; they are working on communication skills so they can verbalize their basic needs like "I want water".
A few years ago, I was dealing with some mysterious health issues. I was having trouble with my stomach. Having trouble with my skin. My respiratory system. My mental health. I was having trouble, and thus feeling in general like I was ten years older than I actually was. My stress levels were through the roof, and I was also having anxiety attacks. Then four words from a doctor changed my life: "Start where you are."
There's a divide in our culture between childless people and people who are parents. I think we need to support our parent friends more. I've had jealousy and snark directed towards me because I can sleep in on weekends and don't have to deal with the kid alarm clocks at 5 a.m. And it is annoying. I'm not making excuses for that. But I think we need to look behind the snark and annoyance to the real issue. Parents often feel very alone. And most of the time, childless people don't get it, because we're not in it.
The death of animals at the Calgary Stampede has become an annual tradition. So what compels people to attend these events, knowing that they will likely see an animal die? It is time for an open conversation about the treatment of animals. If we are to find our empathy we need to see it everywhere.
Empathy is part of our anatomy. It's just that, like a muscle, it needs to be flexed. What this means is that we are wired for compassion, for caring, for connection. As children scratch out long holiday wish lists, parents have an unparalleled opportunity for empathy training. This time of year provides tremendous teaching moments. Here are a few: