A rational heart

EmpathySymbol.comThe most effective stress reliever is a little empathy. If we as a society seem to be experiencing increasingly intolerable levels of distress, it might be because we don’t have the self-discipline to position ourselves mentally in proper relation to the rest of the world. Instead, each of us expects a place at the center.

In Jane Goodall: The Woman Who Redefined Man, the biographer Dale Peterson writes of the primatologist as a child, “How would she grow to discover a life beyond the infantile egotism that often distracts so many talented and otherwise admirable adults?” The prospect of unfolding the answer is certainly a reason to continue reading.

Underlying every human interaction are the unspoken words “It’s not about you.” It’s a cardinal rule that people usually don’t do anything to help you or to hurt you; they do things for their own benefit.

We’ve all known someone—an angry soul who automatically assumes others are trying to insult, confuse, or deceive—who can’t help viewing everyone as a potential detractor. At some point, the individual failed to cultivate empathy, the capacity to imagine how other people can have incompatible needs and different ways of seeing and existing.

The next time someone lets you down or fails to show sufficient deference or takes something that belongs to you, just for a moment try to imagine what the other person is attempting to accomplish. Most people won’t devote enormous amounts of energy toward, or in opposition to, your cause. They have their own agendas, and you’re simply in their way.

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