By Wayne Saalman
[Photo by Erik McLean]
IF WE HAVE A HIGH DEGREE of empathy for others, if we have compassion for every human being on the planet and for every living creature, as well as for the planet itself, everything changes for the better. Our fellow human beings are treated with respect and kindness, and the same goes for the planet as a whole. With a high degree of empathy for the environment, it too is treated with respect and kindness. We cease polluting and trashing it, and look after its welfare with greater care instead.
No one person can save everyone and everything, of course, but we are all perfectly capable of cultivating higher degrees of empathy and making a contribution. This is especially true at a time in history when so many of us are caught up in a political divide.
Collectively, empathy may just be the ultimate universal cultural creation we humans are able to conjure and if fully embraced could even put an end to the nightmare side of human history, which we all wish would give up its horrid, ugly ghost and quit haunting us.
As things stand, however, we indeed remain a haunted species.
For starters, the specter of war haunts us. We see exploding bombs on TV; we see people screaming and fleeing for their lives. We see buildings reduced to dust and rubble; we see refugees making their way through hazardous corridors of conflict, rushing desperately with just the clothes on their backs to reach a place of safety. All the while, one can easily surmise, those people are crying out in distress and praying for food, water and medical assistance. Sadly, they are doing this while staring into the unblinking lenses of the world’s curious press amid a catastrophic circumstance.
The camera invariably cuts away to the thousands of anchors in newsrooms around the globe and to the journalists who cover the hot spots of the moment to offer insight, analysis and an assessment of any given situation. Responses from politicians follow. The anchorperson then moderates a discussion and, so, round and round goes the human predicament, ever and anon, in the eyes of the popular press and in so many of our lives as we stare into scenes of murder, political strife, monetary fraud, protests in the streets, food shortages, celebrity scandals and a killer pandemic, among so many others that haunt the eye of the camera as well.
Through it all, we viewers get inured to the impact of such pop-shot optics, which tell us more than we can generally fathom. There is too much information to consume there; too much reality to digest in those arresting images and so we simply become overwhelmed and, as a result, switch off. We go back to our own lives, though certain images definitely stay with us and they do haunt us.
This is why we need to remind ourselves that all that happens in our world is not horrible. There is a treasury of magnificent imagery to be found if only we look for it. Every news outlet knows this and offers a bit of it alongside the negative plethora of events going on in the world. We can, indeed, get the socially and spiritually uplifting image if only we seek it out, for there are success stories galore on this planet. There are the happy faces of men, women and children who are experiencing the wonders of life on this earth and in the most ordinary of things. These realities are, in fact, more omnipresent than the tragedies that haunt us and thank goodness for that.
Yes, of course, we all share a primary interest in self-survival, but if we learn to put others first in thought, word and deed, our chances of survival and for happiness actually increase, which may seem counterintuitive, but isn’t, for no one lives in, nor operates out of, a vacuum. Human life is a shared experience. We feed off of each other and contribute to each other’s welfare. We are social beings, first and foremost. The trick here is to not suck up to the bigshots of the world so much as to find the big-hearted people and become big-hearted ourselves.
Long before familiarity — as the cliché goes — breeds any form of contempt for others, it normalizes everything we know, think and feel. Beauty thus becomes what the beholder grows up with and is considered by his or her immediate caretakers to be beautiful. It is that which our social conditioning teaches us to like and accept. As we grow in intelligence and are able to join in with whatever conversations take place around us, we can be the ones to speak of positive qualities. We can be the ones to do so as often as possible in order to influence those around us. We can even be the ones to speak of transcendent wonders; the ones to help lift humanity above its haunted, primitive roots, reaching at every opportunity for the sunny skies of optimism, despite the ghosts and the horrid bloodletting of the past.
In short, we can provide, live and in person, the positive pop-shot optics for all of those around us, especially for the young and the impressionable!
The best way to do that is to cultivate empathy and offer it sincerely whenever we can, for as we seed the soil, so we reap the harvest.
This is biblical, this is karmic; this is the way to happiness and to paradise on earth.