Every year on Rosh Hashanah, my wife and I each think of a one-word concept that we want to work on for the year. I chose empathy. To help with developing more empathy, I participated in a day-long retreat at the Insight Meditation Center in Brattleboro, VT, where Jay Oren Sofer provided various mini-lectures and led a few activities and guided-meditations. One particular guided-meditation practice had tremendous impact for me. Each of us concentrated on a situation when someone left us emotionally hurt or did not give us what we wanted. The 4 questions were: (1) What did I want from the person? (2) Why was it important to have what I wanted? (3) What did the other person give me instead? (4) Why do I think the person did this? Meditating on these 4 questions has helped me respond to many people in gentler and more effective ways than I would have in the past.
One of my struggles with empathy is when a person is being blatantly disrespectful to cause emotional harm. During those moments, part of me wants to escape and never think about what happened again, which usually results in the event festering and feeding upon itself in unproductive ways. However, I’m beginning to learn that I am healthier, stronger, and more empathetic when I run towards the sharp points of my life to deeply explore their influence on me and others.