Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Try an exercise today?

When I was praying this morning I felt my heart strangely warmed, and my compassion growing.  To my shame, it was for my wife, for whom I haven't been exuding tons of empathy and compassion for lately.  We've just been in a tough spot with both of us seeming to be perpetually working through the deeper aches of our souls.

When you're hurting, in any way, it's only normal to be self-centered.  I believe this is actually a good thing; after all, when you're physically injured it's probably best that you tend to your injury rather than ignoring it, otherwise though we have a more other-centered caring society it would probably be full of hemorrhaging amputees.

Anyway, I read this from Christena Cleveland in Disunity in Christ this morning,

"Several research studies show that the simple exercise of taking the perspective of an outgroup member can powerfully break down the division constructed. Perspective taking involves attempting to imagine oneself in another person's shoes, thinking from the other person's point of view, envisioning oneself in the other person's circumstances and feeling what the other person is feeling.  One study asked white students to listen to a black student describe how he, as a black man, experienced problems adjusting to college life.  The students who were asked to take the black student's perspective by 'looking at the world through his eyes and walking through the world in his shoes' expressed more empathy for the specific student and more positive attitudes toward black students in general compared to students who were not asked to take the perspective of the black student.  Other studies have shown that perspective-taking increases empathy for and positive attitudes toward a wide variety of groups, including elderly people, individuals who are HIV positive and individuals who speak English as a second language."

This struck me as common sense, yet I also realized how difficult this was to do.

So I prayed, and as I prayed I tried to picture what my wife has been going through lately.  I was sad. I was moved.  I found compassion growing.

So I did the same for my kids.  Then my friends.

Not only did I find empathy growing, but I felt full.  I wanted to give hugs.  I wanted to do nice things, and I wanted to care for these people I hold dear but often find myself too self-absorbed to think about what they've been experiencing recently.

This is a simple exercise, but I found it worthwhile.  Would you be willing to give it a shot today?  Perhaps particularly for someone you've been struggling with lately?