September 2nd, 2005
casting the net of empathy

Not having internet at home yet, imagine my shock when I logged on this morning to find the dialogue that has ensued over the last 24 hours. I went through a variety of responses from anger, to sadness, and once again gratitude. My heart tells me that I should not try to defend myself here, but instead express my overall feelings about things. But this is difficult for I am indeed human after all, prone to the wide range of emotions, (and become defensive when I feel my character has been attacked, though I would like to be the buddha in this respect it is easier said than done.) My process of the last two years has been to open up more to my truth, to see things that I have not wanted to see (in myself and others), and to get closer to who I really am. That means going to the ugly places, and this is no exception.
I am grateful for this dialogue (it gives us all a chance to figure out how we feel about certain things), and I will not shy away from it.
The great question here becomes “How far do we each choose to cast our own net of empathy?” Does it reach to the other side of the world? To my own country? To my family? Or only to the dying bird in my backyard? When I look at the planet and all of the people and creatures on it, I say, “your pain is my pain”. That is what it means to have compassion, I understand your pain because I have it too, I know what it means to feel hurt and sadness. As someone who often feels too much, I must make decisions about how much weight I put onto my own heart. If I take on all of the problems of the world the weight is too great to bear, and I will not be able to function.
I have always been a believer in the Buddhist notion that “Life is suffering.” (And this is where the controversy might occur), who is to say that one suffering is greater than another? Is is not for us to do, but it IS important that we say to each other, I feel your pain. So if we cannot take on the world’s pain we must make choices about where to put our energy.
My choices have always been (and this is where a slight defensiveness comes in), to align myself with those who have found themselves “voiceless”, to act on a political and social level for those who go unnoticed or unacknowledged in our greater culture. The aids crisis in africa where 1000 people die every single day, to children in Africa who cannot get enough food on a daily basis, to orphans in Guatemala who do not have parents to provide for them, millions of people have no water every day. My own mother was unable to speak and was paralized for the last five years of her life (needing others to act as her voice), this is the experience that shaped MY choices. We all speak and act from our own experience.
I must admit to feeling slightly disgusted at the rampant American ethnocentricity when it comes to tragedy on home soil. As someone who is not American you must understand that at times it appears that “some” of you are saying, “My pain is greater that your pain?” (I DO NOT discredit the current suffering of people in New Orleans, it is tragic and devastating and my heart goes out to all of the people who have lost their homes, families, and friends.)
To my critics…I would agree that as someone who has a “voice” in the greater culture that I have a responsibility to speak out for things that I feel strongly about. I would ask you as the reader, “Is it your responsibilty to force your own feelings onto me?” Why do you feel the need to make me accountable for all of the pains of this world? Why is a blog percieved differently than a book or a painting, or a piece of music, (often labeled “narcissistic”, self absorbed). Yes it is. I am using my voice. It is MY voice, I speak from my perspective.
What I can say for sure…
Life is suffering.
You are indeed getting only a small part of who I am in these writings.
I have my own contradictions.
My heart cannot contain all of the sufferings of the world. (though at times i have tried, to my detriment.)
We are all connected by our suffering.
It is not wrong to experience joy in the midst of suffering. (the writings of Anne Frank greatly influenced my life.)
Altruism is a personal thing, we must make our own choices about where to put our money/energy/love. No one can tell us what is “right”.
Media greatly affects our perception of things.
I cannot please everyone with my writings.
Crisis brings out intense emotions.
Anger is often fear in disguise.
Maybe some of the energy used critiquing me would be better spent doing something productive for the people in need (if that is what your heart wishes to do.)
I continue to be grateful for all of your words, even the challenging ones. as they force me to look closely at my own beliefs.

Sep 2 2005
4:23 pm
keri Smith writes:

Jen,
That is a very important point you just made. It is natural that we respond to things that are closer to us, and I think we are all guilty of having less empathy with things we cannot see or relate to. I do not want to imply that I do it better or even well.
I would say to you that it HAS happened to me on my own turf, I have lost many people who was close to, experienced great trauma in various forms. (No I have not experienced a natural disaster), but my point was more that suffering is suffering, who are we to judge that one is any worse than the other. It is a personal thing how we each respond to different situations.

Sep 2 2005
4:23 pm
keri Smith writes:

Jen,
That is a very important point you just made. It is natural that we respond to things that are closer to us, and I think we are all guilty of having less empathy with things we cannot see or relate to. I do not want to imply that I do it better or even well.
I would say to you that it HAS happened to me on my own turf, I have lost many people who was close to, experienced great trauma in various forms. (No I have not experienced a natural disaster), but my point was more that suffering is suffering, who are we to judge that one is any worse than the other. It is a personal thing how we each respond to different situations.


Facebook
Ad Free