Building an Empathic Civilization

Lately when people ask me what I want to do with my life, I have begun telling them what I settled on in 2008 but was too tender, then, to share.

I want to create a world that cherishes itself.

Here’s why: I (and many others, let me tell you) have observed a reciprocal relationship between the way we treat ourselves and the way we treat the world, and vice versa. When I don’t trust myself, I struggle to trust others. Conversely, when someone trusts me, and shows me that they trust me (ESPECIALLY when I was at a formative, brain-developing-rapidly age), I find it easier to see myself as trustworthy. A more superficial illustration: when I am full of thoughts and struggling to focus, sometimes cleaning and organizing my space–my room, my desk, lately my email inbox–can help me clear my mind.

More to the point, we, the human family and the biosphere which is our community, face an uncertain future; climate change looms. The IPCC’s recent report on the impacts of climate change in the coming decades (flood, drought, heat waves, fires, etc. leading to famine, resource wars, etc.) speaks for itself. The  reckless damage done by oil spills, fracking byproducts, coal mining, chemical production, pesticide usage, the byproducts of all industry–if you’re still reading, I probably don’t need to go on. You know what I’m talking about. You are surely familiar with the Doom Doom Doom Doom narrative on our doorstep.

The cultural mess we’re in is sharply reflected in the ecological mess we’re in, and ultimately, it is my hypothesis that the cultural mess and the ecological mess and our personal, internal, emotional health are all to some degree the same mess. We live in a big Story, a story which is super complex in many ways, but in others is very simple. This story, at core, is what my father refers to as “the Paradigm of Separation:” our minds are separate from our bodies, humans are separate from the environment, the humans are separate from God.

The stories we tell are the stories we live.

The paradigm of separation is our excuse for mistreating ourselves, our bodies, “other” people, communities, ecosystems, and the planet. It’s the story we tell about humans dominating the earth, about colonists and colonized, it’s patriarchy and it is our resource management strategy, and it is also how we learn to deal with our emotions, and sex, and failure, and success, and difference, and body image, and politics, and addiction, and suffering.

It is also not a very good story. Not only is it patently false, at the root of a great deal of unnecessary suffering, and probably getting in the way of humans surviving the next century, it’s pretty dull.

We treat ourselves the way we treat the world, and we treat the world the way we treat ourselves. What we do and believe to and of ourselves we do and believe to and of the world.

Who else agrees we could use a little more Love up in here? Whatever I do with my life, I want that doing to contribute to creating a world that cherishes itself. How best to go about it is a giant question mark. This blog is one footprint on the path. Learning to love myself, to be alone with myself, to be compassionate with myself is another, followed closely by loving and supporting my friends and loved ones and strangers unconditionally and without judgement to the best of my ability. All three of these things build on each other.

Overall, for all of society, I can’t change the whole world. But we can. I was pretty excited to find this video about empathy, which is a different, perhaps more accessible, and certainly more scientific way of telling the story I am telling. Watch it, ponder it, let me know what you think. Let’s build an empathic, connected world. We can.

And it is likely that we must.

“Pyschosocially the human species is highly underdeveloped, and paradoxically, that is our greatest reason for hope.”

– Stuart Hill


Emily Jacket


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