Children are the same everywhere.
And may others pardon me,
But the children are the same,
In Paris or in Göttingen.
O may it never come back
The time of blood and of hate
Because there are people I love
In Göttingen, in Göttingen.
There’s more on the song that made history here:
“Both sides are motivated by fear, by anger, and by wrong perception. But wrong perceptions cannot be removed by guns and bombs. They should be removed by deep listening, compassionate listening, and loving space.
…. We should be able to say this: “Dear friends, dear people, I know that you suffer. I have not understood enough of your difficulties and suffering. It is not our intention to make you suffer more. It is the opposite. We don’t want you to suffer. But we don’t know what to do and we might do the wrong thing if you don’t help us to understand. So please tell us about your difficulties. I’m eager to learn, to understand.”
— Thich Nhat Hahn, on empathy and averting conflict
That sounds very pollyannaish, doesn’t it? But imagine if it worked.
Jason De Caro recently shared this video from the Cleveland Clinic. For those who can’t watch it, the video shows various individuals in a hospital setting , with captions describing the most recent, pertinent events in that person’s life (a woman visiting her terminally ill husband, someone learns they’re about to become a parent, etc.)
I thought it was a nice reminder that external appearances are often superficial. All people have a complex history behind them, beyond just the snippets and cross-sections that we observe, particularly when meeting someone for the first time. In another post, titled “Empathy in Flux,” I wrote that single slices of a person’s life are never enough to fully understand the complexity of a person:
as Forrest Gump famously put it: “stupid is as stupid does.” I think this is an often misunderstood piece of folk wisdom. My interpretation of this is that one can evaluate actions without leaping to evaluations of states of being. Certainly one can do stupid things without “being” stupid. To believe another person “is” stupid (or any personality trait you can imagine) is to claim one has found the signal among the noise, while ignoring a LOT of complexity, the deviation around the mean. In short, we have just a cross-section in the totality of that person’s life. Even Hitler laughed. Even Gandhi had periods of depression. Certainly, we have more than a snapshot of these particular individuals’ lives, but we don’t have that for everyone we meet. How different would our impression of others be if we had that longitudinal data in front of us? Of course, for most people the amplitude of one’s personality does not fluctuate that widely. Most people are consistent in either being kind, or funny, or complete assholes. But context and variation are essential.
Like all reminders to be mindful, the video is welcome (and necessary).
Earth’s night sky in 3.8 billion years (NASA images).
“He was bitter at the universe for all the things it didn’t give him, for how it shortchanged him, for how it sometimes made him feel lesser. “Why couldn’t he just be normal?” he thought. He felt like this too often.
But he always, without fail, waded through the dark clouds and returned to the same thoughts that helped dissipate the bitterness – that we all have our baggage and insecurities that weigh on us. Some carry heavier weights than others, some that look to be almost unbearable, some that seemed to be (from the outside) trivial. But no one was without burden. His burdens were not as great as some, but they were still his.