Sandy Hook & Imagining Empathy

I was planning on writing about preparing for the coming year — not resolutions, but goals, desires, hopes for being human and becoming I. But something happened on Friday that drew my attention to something that we need to consider first.

Do we have a future, a year worth living, if we fail to develop empathy?

I found great inspiration in the shooting in Connecticut and the pain I felt hearing about it. OH, I wish it had never happened, but it did happen and it is up to you and me to redeem the horror, the suffering and the meaninglessness of it, by facing the evil, embracing the heartbreak and finding some new meaning in our own souls.

In the Inner Mother Inner Father program, I describe reverie as the maternal gesture that de-dramatizes the unbearable, the overwhelming, and the unthinkable experiences of the child. Reverie soothes and comforts the troubled child but also empowers the child with new abilities to understand, tolerate and regulate their reactions to the ordinary challenges of daily living and great stresses of acute dramas.

We are all in need of maternal reverie to help us integrate what happened on Friday in the classrooms of Sandy Hook.

What lives in our soul that can be — dare I use the word — cultivated by the violent death of 27 individuals?

Empathy.

Let us NOT cultivate hatred, terror, helplessness, revenge which are so easy to feel.

Sympathy is not empathy. Sympathy is kind. Sympathy soothes. Prayers are not empathy. Prayers comfort. Sympathy and prayerfulness, are beautiful and easy to feel in our souls.

But empathy, feeling the pain of others, is love, objective,mature, and filled with grace. Empathy, so difficult to feel, is a moral strength-builder. There is no selfishness, no personal gesture, no kindness, soothing, or comfort in empathy, just love given in freedom without prejudice or agenda.

Here’s what I ask myself in my strong moments since Friday when I risk empathy. Can I feel what the children, living and dead, of Sandy Hook felt as my own? Can I feel the agony of the grieving parents as my own? Can I feel the objectivity of the first responders, the medical examiners, the reporters — those whose job it is to deal with the physical reality of this kind of violence — as my own? Can I feel your fear and your sadness just at learning about this event as my own? Can I feel the responsibility of President Obama shedding tears for a nation as my own? And, ultimately, do I have the strength to feel the dark, heinous, burning despair and madness of Adam Lanza as my own?

The mystery or paradox of empathy appears when empathic feelings chosen in love become a greater spiritualized love. Empathy cannot be seduced or manipulated by evil, in fact, even the briefest moment of empathy diminishes the power and influence of evil.

It is empathy that will change the future and redeem the past. Empathy comes from within the soul. You, in your highest self, choose empathy and the cosmos moves a breath toward universal and unconditional love. Empathy empowers us to inwardly reveal the deep meaning and lessons of the most harsh destiny.

I can write these words with conviction but I can only strive like you to manifest the thoughts behind them. For example:

I woke up this morning, thinking about the children’s parents looking at the Christmas gifts hidden on the shelf in the closet. The joy they felt when they bought the doll or the game that their 6/7 year old would love finding under the tree. What will they do with the gifts now? How will they deal with the unimaginable grief they experience just looking at a toy? I can hardly bear the pain of my thought and I can’t really feel the parent’s pain. So can I put my heart where my words are?

And the children, OMG their sweet beauty, the smiles, the potential, flood my senses with sadness. I find the wisdom, that although their small defenseless physical size and few years of life make me feel a huge grief, I know that spiritually, their human spirit, is eternal and as great as the spirit of each of us.

I have spent most of the day contemplating the deed of empathy hoping to find some greater understanding and hoping to share this little understanding with you, my dear friends. Please contemplate empathy from your own experience and share your thoughts as a comment on this post. Please forward it to others as it is only in many individuals striving to empathize that love, real love, free of drama and full of meaning, can heal our world.

26 Responses to Sandy Hook & Imagining Empathy

  1. Victoria December 16, 2012 at 6:47 pm #

    My first reaction was to make new laws for gun control. Then I thought of the over crowded jails and backed up court systems we have. That would never work. But we have to try to change something in regards to guns in our country. I later went for a run at our neighborhood elementary school which has a track and at the same time I felt so grateful to the school for providing this track, I felt scared for the children that go there. There were kids going into the gym to play basketball and I thought how they must be scared also. Our children are no different than the kids that live in other countries in war zones. They have become victims. Every school will need security gates. This is a must!

    • DoloresRose December 16, 2012 at 7:36 pm #

      You are looking at the 2nd amendment of our constitution which Obama would love to change. In all countries whose leaders killed their people they first took the guns away so the people could not defend themselves.
      I am not going to comment on the children or their families because everyone has said all that would or could say already.
      As as

      • DoloresRose December 16, 2012 at 7:49 pm #

        As far as Obama shedding tears, what an actor he is! Watch him again and listen carefully to his voice and reflection. Can an extreme narcissist feel empathy? I know many health professionals and other soul secure individuals who are not fooled by this individual. We have much to go through as a country and in the world. We need to see clearly and be conscious of all that is happening around us and need to develop many soul qualities. We must also be careful that we retain our freedom and not let a government put us into slavery which is happening right before our eyes and many thinking this is the best thing for us. If the spiritual world could set us free why do we need the Obama’s in the world to tell us what to do and not to do, this is going backwards. We can all take care of each other.

        • maria December 17, 2012 at 5:50 am #

          Are you able to feel, what Obama feels? Narcistic or not, are you able to feel where his tears are coming from? The here and now is the only time we can be the closest to the truth. Only now is the moment to feel something. No matter what he has done in the past, who could possible be in the position to judge his moment of tears?

          I can’t. To empathiese means, to pick up the other persons energy and feel it. Not thinking it, guessing or judging. Leaving oneself aside and just feeling the other.

          • maria December 17, 2012 at 6:39 am #

            PS. This reply is about DoloresRose’s comments from the 16Th of December!

          • DoloresRose December 18, 2012 at 3:40 am #

            Maria, He had no tears and I am not the only one who saw this and felt it Yet you are judging me by telling me what I should do according to your thinking and/or feeling.
            Get it together, these children and teachers sacrificed a lot for all of us and if you connect your thinking with your feeling you will begin to see what is going on with this from a spiritual perspective. You should also have empathy for the young man who did this, he was not well and on drugs. Schools do not allow children into classrooms anymore unless they are controlled by drugs, Ritalin is the biggest one. The soul of the individual no longer plays a part in its life and the brain chemistry is changed. I had a step grandson who could not remain in kindergarten unless he was on Ritalin. There is much more I could say. Christ Blesses us all and remember what the Angels sang, ” Joy to the World and Peace on Earth to Men of Good will.”

          • Lesley December 18, 2012 at 1:42 pm #

            Thank you Maria, i love what you shared. We can spend a lot of time judging others. Where will that get us? (would you like to have Obama’s job? anyone in his position has to be a brave soul, regardless of any label you give him)
            Empathy teaches us and heals us. We need to be empathetic and we need to set strong boundaries around our children, keeping them safe. Making guns less accessible is a start.
            I think that all of us, especially parents, have gone through what it must be like to be a parent who has lost a child. Our hearts bleed for those parents who lost a child and those children who lost a close friend, and the beautiful children who lost their lives. What I appreciate and find comforting in a sense, is that thousands, maybe millions of people in our country are speaking out about this awful tragedy in Sandy Hook. We are speaking out! we are sharing the paint! we are looking to what we can do so this may never happen again. This is the beauty of Americans, speaking out. I hope that somehow those parents who lost a child will feel some remnants of comfort from the many of us expressing EMPATHY. God bless all the parents and kids in Sandy Hook, you are all courageous brave souls. The spirit of those lost will continue to live in your hearts.

      • Lynn December 18, 2012 at 7:03 am #

        Delores Rose and others…

        I invited comments on personal, thoughtful, and deep experiences of the mystery of empathy. I did not expect judgments of other people’s character or debates about gun control. Neither shows any contemplation of empathy,

        Personal opinion is the opposite of empathy and builds walls between souls. It may also be a fear of giving or receiving empathy.

        I was tempted to delete the comments that fail to share questions and imaginations of empathy, but decided to leave them as examples of “not empathy.”

        Empathy bears no point of view which is why it heals and reveals.

  2. Lynne December 16, 2012 at 7:03 pm #

    Poignant, heartfelt expression, Lyn. The world needs more of these….And so it shall be, no doubt.

  3. Audrey Erb December 16, 2012 at 7:34 pm #

    Thank you Lynn, for helping me to see another side of this tragedy. I’ve got some work to do!

  4. Carole December 16, 2012 at 7:50 pm #

    Thank you, I totally agree with your thoughts. I must say I feel empathy for all. The young man who started it, I can only have empathy for him, he must of been feeling so much pain and suffering to pass that on to all the families involved. It is tragic.

  5. Linda J December 16, 2012 at 8:13 pm #

    I feel the pain of the innocent; I feel the pain of the guilty. Who among us is not both guilty and innocent? When you see some bad in the good and some good in
    the bad, it gets harder to tell which is which.

    • Lynn December 16, 2012 at 8:50 pm #

      Thanks, Linda. You share the paradox of evolved human consciousness. It is not easy or simple. Challenge and complexity are the signs of the thriving, evolving soul.
      Much love, Lynn

  6. Leenie December 16, 2012 at 8:15 pm #

    Maybe I am still just in shock or something. I’m not sure. But these just sound like empty words to intellectualize something incomprehensible. I don’t mean that I disagree or intend an argument. It just sounds like so many words in the wind. I cannot even begin to understand how anyone could so swiftly jump on a political bandwagon (either for or against gun laws) in the midst of such a horrific tragedy as so many comments attest. There is another tragedy within the greater human race besides the shooting and deaths at Sandy Hook.

  7. Panjee Tapales December 16, 2012 at 8:43 pm #

    Thank you, Lynn. I’ve been struggling so much over this and thinking about those families, the children, how horrible to die in fear and away from those you love. I also struggle to think of what it may mean in the spiritual sense for these little angels to die the way they did, all together, and what it opens up in everyone across the globe. There is grief but also a subtle realization of our profound connectedness. But part of me has difficulty acknowledging that so much good–so much spiritual substance–can come from something so horrible.

    I’m a writer and I have been writing in my head and heart, but having difficulty blogging about it. I’m torn between writing and offering silence.

    Today I willed myself to read about the children, to look at their faces and read their names. It was so difficult, but I felt it was worse to look away.

    I thank you for your profound sharing, the rich and true context you always provide, and for allowing me this space.

    • Lynn December 16, 2012 at 8:48 pm #

      Dear Panjee,
      Thank you for your vulnerability and uncertainty. They are the marks of a courageous soul. Share your heart.

  8. Annie Stevens December 16, 2012 at 10:20 pm #

    I attempt here to make sense of the insanity of the school killings at the elementary school in Connecticut and I grapple with the concept of having empathy for those who are hard to love.

    I cannot help but wonder what was going on in the inner life and in the household of the killer, Adam Lanza and his mother. I wrack my brain wondering what his relationship with her must have been like. What drove him to kill her? and what drove him to stamp out such sweet beauty at the school?

    What darkness dominated his emotional landscape and his environment? and why didn’t his mother and he not get some very needed help?

    I have struggled with similar questions when I wonder why several of my own loved ones don’t seek out the help they need.

    I with struggle with family members who have Asperger’s Syndrome, narcissitic personality disorders with sociopathic tendencies; they have various forms of mental illness. A sociopath is defined as a person with a personality disorder manifesting in extreme antisocial attitudes and behavior and a lack of conscience.They lack empathy. Why is it so hard for some to empathize?

    Empathy is defined as the ability to understand and share the feelings of others.

    I struggle to have empathy towards people who have no empathy for me and my pain. I live in a family system with parents who can’t empathize with their children. I have wanted to disown these relatives. I understand rage and anger and paradox and confusion. I’ve had days of wanting to pull my hair out over people who live with total lack of awareness of the negative impact they have on others.

    I have felt the rage of frustration of having to deal with people who are not empathic. I have prayed for the ability to be empathic towards them so I can understand their lack of empathy towards me. It’s crazy and paradoxical. I see so much mental illness around me; in everyday life where it effects me directly, and indirectly with people I do not know. Everyday I see and live with the insanities.

    I pray for society to develop a greater understanding of mental illness. I pray for the stigmas to diminish so people will develop the abilities to have more open conversations about the difference bet. psychological & spiritual wellness vs. illness.

    School kids need education at younger ages about how to speak up when they are being mistreated or abused. The famous European psychotherapist, Alice Miller, author of 13 books about child abuse, extensively researched the roots of violence in the mistreatment of children. We must raise awareness of these issues for the benefit of all children around the world.

    The lack of empathy, the roots of violence,the mistreatment and abuse of children all around us; oh my heart and soul aches when I contemplate how much work must still be done about these problems.

    It’s very hard work, but i agree with Lynn that: It is empathy that will change the future and redeem the past.

    • Lynn December 16, 2012 at 10:33 pm #

      Annie,
      Thanks so much for such a heartfelt response. We all need that maternal reverie that helps us integrate and discover how to understand, tolerate, regulate our own pain and empathize with with the pain of another.You struggle with it everyday actively. Most of us are numb to the need until it shows up in high contrast like Sandy Hook. Empathy is greatest when we take on its activity when out life is relatively serene and manageable. Can we say ” Here I am free of pain, is there another’s pain I can carry? Or “Here I am carrying the pain of my abused childhood, the suffering of my anxieties, depression and mania, yet I am willing to add to my suffering the suffering of another in freedom?” What are the cultivating questions we must ask ourselves. Warm love to you and those whose pain you bear. Lynn

      • Annie Stevens December 17, 2012 at 11:31 am #

        I must say a few more words as I continue to contemplate how I feel about Sandy Hook and Imagining Empathy esp. after my husband read some of the reflections shared here. We discussed them further last night.

        I must address Delores Rose’s comments and say that I really take offense at what she wrote about President Obama being an actor. The answer to her question is no, an extreme narcissist cannot feel empathy.

        From direct experience of living with narcissists, I know for sure that he is unequivocably not a narcissist. I totally disagree with her characterization of him and I find it distasteful considering this is being written in the context of a spiritually evolved community of seekers of the truth.

        He serves our nation and risks the safety of his own children by doing so. He receives death threats on a daily basis. Imagine the impact that has on a young family.

        My experience of him, after watching his press conference and the speech he gave at the memorial in Newton yesterday, was of a grief-stricken parent, a caring friend, an empathic and loving human being.

        If anyone wants a contrast to this opinion, consider reading about what happened to the children in China and how the Chinese authorities dealt with a similar tragedy on the same day.

        In speaking directly to Delores, I found it fasinating that in your conclusion, you choose not to comment on the children and their families because ‘everyone has said all that would or could be said already.’ Which of course, this is not true. This a shallow comment.

        You also said, who needs the Obamas of the world to tell us what we can do and not do, “we can all take care of each other.” What do you suggest we do to take care of each other Delores?

        School massacres and the impact on children and families is a topic that needs an on-going conversation until we are able to confront the evil in ourselves that allows these atrocities to continue to manifest.

        The responsibility lies in each of us to examine our hearts and find ways to change how we are responding to each other.

        (Thank you to Maria for commenting about Delores as well.)
        It’s easy to spout off about the President. What would you be like if you had to stand at that podium and face a grief-stricken nation in front of the press core Delores? How would you show your empathy to the parents, teachers and relatives of the 20 dead children?

        Instead of considering that, you choose to lambaste the President who is offering true and compassionate comfort to the families and the nation at this time of incomprehensible tragedy.

        Your comments make my heart ache even more.

  9. Ellyn December 16, 2012 at 10:43 pm #

    Dear Lynn
    Thank you for your reflection on empathy. I was at work when someone reported the “breaking news”. Tears welled instantly and I choked back repeating “…27 five to 10 year olds…” to another. Saddend. Dumbstruck.

    I went to early morning mass Saturday along with many others and prayed the rosary with those remaining afterward. I see Arch Angel Michael defending the first graders in battle and though their little temporal selves were shattered their beautiful eternal spirits had his glorious wings as their shield.

    I don’t have a television but I thought I heard the parents were given photographs to identify their children. I was not blessed with children however, my heart breaks when I think of those young mothers who cannot hold their babies for the last time as the Pieta’ represents the mourning of the Blessed Mother.

    I have not extended my thoughts as yet toward the perpetrator of this slaughter. Be it evil incarnate, mental illness, or some torment taking up arms in revenge, my thoughts and prayers are with his people left behind.

    God bless as America is not well today.
    Ellyn

  10. charo pacheco December 17, 2012 at 5:52 am #

    Thanks Lynn,
    when I listen to the news the first thought I had was a question:
    How was Adam Lanza feeling to do such an act?
    Now I know exactly…. How the families and we all from empayhy as if we were him are feeling now. I make mine Adam Lanza’s act in empathy and can feel the cosmos breathing love.

    Charo

  11. Kim Aubry December 17, 2012 at 9:02 am #

    Lynn,
    As always well well said. It has been a heart wrenching weekend and everyone wants a quick fix…outlaw guns, fix the mental health, etc. It is complex where we have gotten to in our society…with the enormous amount of violence, separateness from each other and ourselves and our eternal self. Also the amount of mental illness and unbalanced brain chemistry’s that people have is enormous in this country. I find myself grateful that people, other mothers are sharing their difficulties with their children who have brain imbalance and violence issues. That people are calling for more help with mental health. I would like to have the leaders in the cutting edge brain science step into the conversation so there is more awareness of the different research and solutions out there. Also the work you do Lynn is more important than ever. Thanks for your voice.

  12. susan crozier December 18, 2012 at 4:04 pm #

    Lynn, your few sentences about the paradox of empathy was so crucial. When we choose out of our own I to hold this tragedy in a state of surrender and powerlessness we offer a portal to the Christ Being to meet us in this place of powerlessness and not knowing how to respond. By being awake to the fact that we can’t change the events that have happened it is a fact but what we can do is begin a of process forgiveness and empathy in ourselves. For those times in our own lives we have come up short.How grace comes to help us when we are frightened and alone. How alone Adam Lanza must have been and how defeated his mother must have felt as she died. I truly feel empathy for all their struggles and anyone else who lives with mental imbalances. I also have had a tragic loss to suicide in my family so I know the pain of the families. May this empathy we generate help untie karmic knots for the future of all those souls and help us all on the road to forgiveness and love. Thank you for your most heart and soul searching writing.

  13. Kelli Bailey December 20, 2012 at 4:47 pm #

    Lynn,
    Your post made me confront the painful emotions lurking behind the immense anxiety I felt after becoming aware of this event. These emotions needed to be looked at in order for healing to happen, both for myself and for the world. Thank you for the wonderful work you are doing!

  14. Suzi Banks Baum December 30, 2012 at 10:45 am #

    Dearest Lynn,

    At first I was sad to only find this site today, thanks to another friend with whom I walk the days of Christmas, soaking in the energies of grace and light at this time of darkness.
    Then I read your post on empathy and ‘the maternal gesture’. I will share with you a link to what I wrote after being in Sandy Hook 4 days after the shootings. It stirred in me a great awe for the capacity of humans to develop empathy.
    Thank you for being here and for your witness to our evolution.
    I look forward to knowing more of you here.
    Sincerely,

    Suzi

    Here is the link to my post titled “What’s A Mother to Do?” on

    http://laundrylinedivine.com/5078/what-is-a-mother-to-do/

  15. Connie January 16, 2013 at 11:35 pm #

    Thank you for this forum.
    I have no words except to say that I am grieving. I empathize.
    I am recalling a book by Rollo May: Innocence and Power, A Search for the Sources of Violence.
    It addresses exactly what is happening now in this country.