What’s Happened to Kindness and Empathy #empathy #compassion #pandemic

Image by Vicki Nunn from Pixabay

I live in a typical upper middle-class American town. People are kind when it’s convenient, and unkind, I suspect more often than most realize. At least these days. It is a place where behind closed doors comparisons are made and unkind remarks are uttered, but it is also a town where, more and more, unkind words are uttered in public. Especially on platforms like social media.

We have a town FB page that was created with the intention to build community. Whenever I go on it, I find posts where people are mocked and attacked. This is not community. This is not kindness. This is not empathy. This is not, I am sure, the only town like this is America. Or in the world right now. We are living in an era of extreme polarization fed by fear and hatred. More often than not, we are globally tapping into the shadowlands of ourselves to react to life, instead of finding the self in the other.

We can blame the previous POTUS for being an instigator and propagator of this dehumanizing type of behavior, but that is also a convenient excuse. Each one of us is endowed with the choice of our actions, thoughts, and words. In any moment we can behave with self-serving rhetoric, or we can step into the space of empathy, kindness, and love.

Some days, like today, I struggle with the pull to react and defend. To try to balance the scales back to humanity. Mocking a global pandemic, which has caused millions of people to die or become seriously ill, is not an act of empathy, love, or kindness. It is an action that is, simply, unjustifiable.

Undermining someone’s concern for their child’s welfare, and the welfare of their child’s classmates and teachers, by a laughing emoji reflects not only a lack of empathy, but a lack of humanity.

We an use the argument of “lies” v. “truth,” which is ever-so-popular right now in our fear-driven, conspiracy-fed world, but where does that truely led us? To more separation from our core essence. To more separation from ourselves and each other. The need to be special, unique, right, and different, drives us away from the realization that we are all worthy of this life we are living.

What I Shared

Following up on my earlier post today, “Teach Your Children Well,” I wanted to share these two scenes from my memoir manuscript. After talking with my daughter and son about how our words can hurt others and have a lasting impression, I shared these stories with them for the first time. It was an emotional afternoon, but also a healing one. I am so grateful for the opportunity to help instill the importance of kindness and empathy.

From A Girl Named Truth (for “Sally” and “Timmy”):

There were some things I could not hide, like the food I brought for lunch in grade school when we were still vegetarians. In the cafeteria I would look around the table and watch my friends with their saran-wrapped sandwiches made with bread that reminded me of clouds, all soft, white and full of air. Between those perfect slices of bleached wheat, circles of pink baloney, or squares of pink ham floated atop squares of orange cheese. How I wanted to sink my teeth into those sandwiches!

Instead, I would open my lunchbox and pull out my waxed-paper bundle. My friends, in turn, would watch while I unwrapped thick slabs of my mother’s homemade bread. Peeking through the edges of the uneven slices, stems of alfa sprouts curled into tiny green fists.

One day, while I sat with my friends at the cafeteria table, one of them pointed at my sandwich, while wrinkling her nose. “What are those?” she asked, her fingers almost touching the sprouts that looked like they were struggling to grow out of a bed of bread.

“Sprouts,” I mumbled.

“Sprouts? What are sprouts?”

With the question, my face grew hot, as though I was suddenly standing, against my will, too close to an open fire.

“I don’t know,” I whispered looking down at my lunch, wishing by some grace of the universe, that it would disappear. “They’re kind-of like lettuce, only smaller.”

“Well they look like grass. What are you, a cow?”

The rest of the table erupted into giggles and a chant began, “Alethea’s a cow, Alethea’s a cow!”

The fire in my face flamed, while my eyes watered to quench it. My stomach, in turn, had closed to the prospect of taking another bite.

I never threw those sandwiches away.  Instead I wrapped their nibbled forms back into their waxed paper packages and handed them shamefully to my mother at the end of the day. She, in turn, would shake her head and ask, “Alethea, why didn’t you eat more of your lunch?”


One spring day, when I was in the first grade, I made my first and only trip to the principal’s office. My victim was Timmy, a chubby boy with light blond hair and blue eyes hidden behind thick glasses. Timmy didn’t have any friends, and that day on the playground he sat, as usual, by himself on a bench while the rest of the school played around him.

I began recess on the swing-set with my best friend of the day, Stacy. As we soared over the ground, we giggled and made faces of disgust, pointing our fingers at Timmy, who studied the brown dirt beside his feet.

When we grew bored and hopped off the swings, Stacy whispered into my ear, “I dare you to go over to Timmy and tell him he’s fat.”

I hesitated, “Only if you go with me.”

So, together Stacy and I ran past Timmy, while crying out in nervous giggles, “Timmy, you’re fat! Timmy, why are you so fat?”

Timmy never lifted his gaze from the ground, and although he acted as though he hadn’t heard us, there was no way he could have missed our words.  Even the teacher on playground duty, whom we had failed to notice, caught our words as they skipped through the air.

“Alethea and Stacy,” she called after us, “Please come with me to the principal’s office.”

While I sat with Stacy on the bench outside the office, my stomach churred with guilt and fear. Tears spilled from the corners of my eyes as I contemplated the reprimand that awaited us. I had never before been sent to the principal’s office and all pervious reprimands at school had been for talking in class and passing notes. I felt awful for myself, and deep within my belly, I felt bad for Timmy, who was more like me than I wanted to admit.

I never teased Timmy again for being fat, instead I mostly watched, with the mixed pang of relief and guilt, when a child who wasn’t me suffered the ridicule of being different. I couldn’t, though, resist teasing Sally. It seemed no one could.

No one really liked Sally or wanted to be around her. Sally’s hair often looked unwashed and hung in stringy strands down her back. Sally wore glasses, and without them her eyes crossed. Most days, Sally looked like she needed a bath.

When we played tag, Sally was the one with cooties, and my friends and I would run away whenever she came near. If she touched us, we would have to shower under the hemlock tress until we were cleansed of her germs with an invisible cootie-wash.  The boys, in turn, loved to chase Sally with their homemade spitball guns, constructed out of lunchroom straws. Their ammunition was saliva soaked wads of paper, which they would shoot with their breath, hoping to land the dripping pulp on the skin, or even better, the glasses of Sally.


“Got her,” the victorious boy would yell. My friends and I giggled nervously, while we peered over at Sally and the goo that covered the glass over her eye in dripping humiliation.

We stared and waited for Sally to wipe away the trail of slime as it slid down the side of her cheek.  Sally, though, never cried. Instead, she held tight her emotions like a seasoned soldier. It took me several years, after I had myself become a victim of almost unbearable humiliation, for me to truly regret my part in Sally’s torment.  Only then did I seek her friendship, which although was never close, lasted until we graduated high school and went our separate ways.

How it all began

Hawk, show me my path
Hawk, show me my path

Last night, before bed, my son asked me, “Mom, do souls ever die?” Had he asked me this question six years ago, I may have given him a different answer. My own journey of spirit in this lifetime began with a childhood of doubt, and the silencing of my inner voice. Many of us begin our lives (in this incarnation) this way. Few, I suspect, have had the gifts of nurtured guidance from our caregivers, for our world has yet to fully embrace the untethered spirit.

I was born into an unhappy marriage between two young, hippie parents. The hippie lifestyle outlasted the marriage, but it was not a free, loving lifestyle. My “spiritual” edification was early and short-lived. When I was two, my mother fled with me and my sister to live on a series of Hare Krishna compounds for 6 months. Other than the comic books my mother kept, and a few other relics, nothing remains of this early life. It was a mode of escape and of hiding, a journey based on fear and not the quest to find spirit.

When I was growing up, my mother and step-father shunned organized religion, and I had almost no knowledge of biblical stories, or other religious texts. Mine was an agnostic household at best, tending toward atheism. Yet, I do recall my mother speaking about the possibility of reincarnation – a “concept” I secretly embraced, as it felt “true” to my soul.

When I prayed, I prayed silently to an unknown, untouchable God inside the muffled walls of my mind. My prayers were desperate and laced with my childhood fears of death and loss. When I thought of death, and my body and “mind” disappearing forever, my heart would leap into my throat.

This way of living went on for many years, well past the time I left my childhood home, despite the nudging of my spirit, which wanted to be heard. A spirit that struggled for the full-bodied voice of Truth. Despite fear’s best attempts to close my third eye, I was an empathic child with psychic gifts. Everywhere I went, I felt the imprint of energy. Unfortunately, I absorbed fear and and pain more than anything else.

My parents labeled me as a “moody,” “overly-sensitive” child, not realizing that I was an empath, and was absorbing and feeling their own fears, as well as the fear-energy that permeated my environment. This is not to say that I didn’t feel love and joy too, I did, and often I shared in the joy of others. Somedays, I would find my mind open to this energy. While sitting in my classroom, there were moments when I connected with a classmate’s inner joy. These were blissful, unexplainable moments for me, as my cells hummed with unexpected joy.

And, I had dreams. Prophetic visions that played out in the ensuing days that I learned to doubt. When I left home, the voice of spirit called louder, urging me to leave the path of ego I was following. In the summer before I began graduate school for a doctoral degree in the biochemical sciences, I was plagued with these visits, which I found terrifying at the time. As I drifted off to sleep, many a night (or day), I would wake suddenly to a loud voice, calling my name into the hollow of my ear. This desperate call to be heard went unheeded, I followed the path of ego for one more year.

It was a miserable year, of which I’ve written about to some degree in other posts. Had I not taken this path, though, I would not have learned its lessons. I would not, perhaps, have known how much it contrasted with my inner truth.

Yet, still I was lost. That 5-year-old girl who secretly knew she was born to write and help the world with her gifts, was still hidden in the cage of fear. It took, in fact, motherhood and IBS to bring her out into the light.

When we have our own children, we are given an opportunity to see a new perspective that extends beyond the limited view we may be used to. We also see the world through our children’s eyes. Again, the nudge of spirit came back to me with urgency.

Before my daughter was born, I knew she would be one of my big teachers in this life. About six months before her birth, she appeared to me while I slept. I saw her full round face, framed with the same brown hair as mine. My blue eyes were mirrored back at me, their shape larger and more pronounced.

My daughter learned verbal language early, and by the time she was two she was asking me some tough questions. While her father was at work, she would peer into my eyes, “If daddy is a doctor, what are you?” she would ask. “But, what are you?” she persisted when I told her I was her mommy.

Her words lingered and probed the recesses of my mind. What was I? Her questions dug under the detritus of fear.

By then, I had both of my children, who are less than a year-and-a-half apart in age. My life was consumed by the joys and stresses of motherhood, and it was laced with holes. I could not deny that I was, in many ways, miserably unfulfilled. Yes, I had always yearned for the time I would be a mother, but this was not a role that completed me. There were huge, undeniable gaps.

Still, I ignored them. After all, I had young children to raise, a busy, working husband, and the idea in my head that I would not let anyone else be the primary care-giver to my son and daughter.

Welcome in a new night-time messenger, this time in the form of IBS, which began suddenly and in painful earnest. Let me take a moment to talk about IBS and how it relates to fear and empathic tendencies. When we spend a great deal of our time feeling and absorbing energy from our surroundings, this energy often gets trapped inside of us, lingering and growing into a dark mass of fear that blocks our inner-light, and creates an energetic imbalance inside of us. The result is often a disease or dis-ease of some sort.

I was a child plagued by stomach ailments, so it should have been no surprise that I developed IBS (a common dis-ease of empaths). My mother (who is in the medical profession) was the first person to suggest this was what was causing my adult ailments – episodes of such intense intestinal discomfort, that I would be up for 3-5 hours during nights when it flared.

I shunned this diagnosis, which I found both embarrassing and unsatisfactory in its inability to be medically “cured.” Two years passed, during which I made trips to doctor’s offices, tried various antacids, had tubes shoved down my throat and blood tests, and passed many a day feeling completely depleted of energy, which made me unable to properly care for my children.

Then, on Mother’s Day of 2008, I had my last episode. You can read the story someday in my memoir (when it’s published), but for now, let’s just say, I had had enough. I was ready to heal. Healing from a dis-ease such as IBS, or any energetic imbalance, comes from a deep-soul-level desire for health. The mind, body and soul must sync in this desire and embrace the truth that we each, inside of us, hold the capacity to be healthy and balanced – that, in fact, this is our natural, steady-state. For more on this, you might want to read Deepak Chopra’s book Quantum Healing.

I may have not known, intellectually, why I was ready and able to heal then, but I knew I had made that determined choice. A change inside of me had occurred – I had decided to heal, and in the process, to finally, heed the desperate, loud calling of my inner voice.

Within a matter of weeks, I was looking at graduate schools with creative writing programs. And, painfully, for it was a struggle, I began to write – really write. That voice that was so deeply buried was starting to emerge. At the turn of the New Year, I packed my suitcase with a week’s worth of clothing, snacks and various other necessities, left my two young children in the primary care of their father, and headed two hours north to a small town in Vermont.

Goddard College, was, in so many ways, the doorway to my voice. Here, for the first time, I was in an environment that felt like home. I quickly found 5 soul-sisters, and a setting where my spiritual and creative voice could sing without fear. Those two years, filled with the challenges of balancing motherhood and being a full-time, low-residency student, were the happiest, to-date, years of my life. There was no turning back. I had embarked, finally, with eager and unwavering feet, along the path of my soul’s truth.

When we find the bliss of our soul’s truth, how can we turn back? I can’t say that after I left Goddard, and the structure of regular deadlines, which “forced” me to write, that I have maintained a steady forward trek. Everyday life has a way of taking over when we let it. Now, though, I stop to listen, take inventory, and find a way to get back on the path.

When I look back at what where I have been in the last five years, I can hardly say I’ve been sitting still, or going “back-wards.” I have not only written many lines, I have nurtured and grown my spiritual calling and path. To help heal others, I have learned, we must heal ourselves. This isn’t to say that we have to be completely “healed” of fears, for this takes most of us many lifetimes, but we need to have an understanding and acceptance of the fears that have a tendency to make a home inside us, and we need to work at healing and letting them go.

Along with Goddard, and the many individuals and gifts I encountered by being there, I have met, and continue to meet wonderful healers, teachers and fellow soul-travelers. This part of my journey began with conversations with a friend, whom I met while our daughters were in preschool together, and gradually grew to include various energy healers, gifted intuitives/psychics and teachers of spirit, and soul-travelers who have merged into my life. When we open ourselves up to our spirit’s truth, doors open to the teachers and companions we need and seek. The world, suddenly, becomes unbounded and filled with the magic of discovery and joy. There is no looking back, except for remembering how far we have come, and the lessons we learned to get here.

May you, if you have not, find your own way to travel your soul’s truth, for it is the only, “true” path, to bliss.