Crossing the empathy wall

I believe in the importance and the power of stories.

The first time I read this quote by Richard Wagamese I saw its truth, felt it brighten my Inner Light.

All that we are is story

From the moment we are born to the time we continue on our spirit journey, we are involved in the creation of the story of our time here. It is what we arrive with. It is all we leave behind. We are not the things we accumulate. We are not the things we deem important. We are story. All of us. What comes to matter then is the creation of the best possible story we can while we’re here; you, me, us, together. When we can do that and we take the time to share those stories with each other, we get bigger inside, we see each other, we recognize our kinship — we change the world one story at a time.

Richard Wagamese (October 14, 1955-March 10, 2017)
Ojibwe from Wabeseemoong Independent Nations, Canada

Believing “we change the world one story at a time” has influenced my approach to peace and justice work. I now tend to put what I think and do into the form of a story. Hence all these blog posts. I also treat what others share with me in the context of stories. “What comes to matter then is the creation of the best possible story we can while we’re here; you, me, us, together.”

Now when I find myself being led to do something, I also find myself thinking, I should do this because it will be a good story.

It is often difficult for me to express Spiritual matters in particular, in words. I think of “ineffable”, which is the inability to express in words. Stories can be a way to express a Spiritual matter indirectly. As an illustration of the underlying Spiritual message. A kind of pantomime. The Bible, and other religious works, are collections of stories.

I often find myself thinking, I should do this because it will be a good story.

While someone might just tell their story, the idea of stories is related to the sharing of stories with each other. This is especially true when people, or groups have different attitudes or beliefs. Sharing stories is an opportunity for each side to express their view more clearly.

The act of listening, deeply, to the story being shared with you, is important. You might learn, or be changed by the story if you are open to that possibility as you listen. And it is meaningful to the storyteller, knowing they are being listened to. Which might make them more willing to consider your story.

Sharing our stories with those who agree with us is good entertainment, and perhaps teaching/learning. But if we believe “we change the world one story at a time”, we need to be sharing our stories with those who disagree with us. Arlie Hochschild expresses this as “crossing the empathy wall.”

An empathy wall is an obstacle to deep understanding of another person, one that can make us feel indifferent or even hostile to those who hold different beliefs or whose childhood is rooted in different circumstances

Arlie Hochschild, author of Strangers in Their Own Land

“Everyone has a deep story,” says Arlie Hochschild. “Our job is to respect and try to understand these stories.”

You can sign up for a video Call with Arlie Hochschild on Saturday, Sep 26th, 11:00 AM CDT here.

Five Questions for Arlie

What Makes You Come Alive?

Often I wake up thinking about something moving that a person told me in a recent interview and figuring out what I’m learning from it or how to write about it. And I’m connecting that to a little “lookout” in my mind that tells me what’s on the horizon.

Pivotal turning point in your life?

I was 12, and had been freshly plucked from an American middle class girlhood in Kensington, Maryland to move with my parents to Tel Aviv, Israel where my dad had just been posted in the US embassy.One weekend my father drove my mother and I in a large American car to visit the “old city” — the Arab sector– of Jerusalem to see it and shop in the bizarre. On arriving, my dad parked the car in a parking lot. Getting out of the back of the car, I saw along the edge of the edge of the lot, approaching us child beggars, one blind, another. nearly bald. A third was crippled and moved on a little cart with wheels. While I was looking around in shock, a man paid to watch the foreigner’s cars, approached me and said in English, “are you Americans? Why does America give alot of money to Israel but none to us?” It was said in a minute, but my life has never been quite the same since.

An Act of Kindness You’ll Never Forget?

I was on the playground, age 12, alone, not speaking the language of the kids in my new school. A girl my age smiled at me and tagged me on the shoulder. I didn’t understand and I didn’t respond. She waited, smiled, and came back to tag me again. She was inviting me to a game of tag.

One Thing On Your Bucket List?

to finish a book on empathy.

One-line Message for the World?

Don’t be afraid to reach out.

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