“Before you criticize a man, walk a mile in his shoes. That way, when you do criticize him, you'll be a mile away and have his shoes.” Steve Martin
This year's presidential nomination process is like a reality TV show populated with messy, overly-dramatic, self-entitled caricatures. The spectacle, while revolting, is also mesmerizing.
Yet I feel an inner tug pulling me away from the spectacle. In particular, I'm weary of investing energy in the Donald Trump melodrama.
I loathe his attacks on immigrants, women, Muslims. He is a vile, egotistical demagogue. Thank God I'm not like that!
Then this morning during my meditation I had a realization: I am like Donald Trump!
The truth is, I too:
- Hate losing and don't handle failure well
- Tend to be self-absorbed and self-entitled
- Have racist thoughts lurking in my heart
- Often feel I'm right, superior, and have all the answers
- Try to preserve my perfect image and become defensive when my faults are mirrored back to me
- Can be smug, patronizing, arrogant, and condescending
- Vilify those whose political positions are the polar opposite of mine
- Overstate, understate, or sometimes flat out lie if it will make me look better
Everything I despise in Donald Trump, I can find somewhere in myself, either as something I do, have done, or have the potential to do.
I may be more aware of and put more effort into mitigating my flaws than Donald Trump, and my imperfections probably won't have the same global impact as Donald Trump's, but I cannot self-righteously claim that we have nothing in common.
Empathy is to put on someone else's shoes. It is to imagine that, given certain circumstances, we could also behave as they do. Donald Trump and I are walking in different directions, but the same shoes fit us both.
Empathy does not acquiesce to abominable behavior. It firmly opposes it, while affirming the humanity, however deeply flawed, of the offender. It sees, in fact, it looks for a spark of divine Essence within those we oppose. That Sacred Essence within, which is the core of who we really are, expands our capacity to face and hold faults without demonizing, repressing, or fleeing.
When we face our shortcomings that others mirror back to us, we have a choice: self-judgment or self-compassion. If we choose judgment, we will project our inner demons on to others and find villains everywhere. We create more of what we loathe.
Or we can choose to have compassion for our flaws. Grounded in that Sacred Essence, we see our demons clearly and can choose to change the direction we are headed. We might even start to have an energetic shift toward compassion for our enemies.
Empathy and compassion are scarce in our public discourse. Without them, however, it is impossible to find common ground or birth innovative, unexpected solutions. Polarization and gridlock worsen, and there is no way forward.
Empathy is the way forward. It is not the entire solution. Indeed it's only a first step. But it's headed in the right direction.