LIVES IN BETWEEN

The somewhat different intercultural communication blog

Category: Empathy

What can YOU do to make this world a better place? Weekly Act of Kindness #1

So much for keeping New Year’s resolutions. It’s been far too long since my last post, but what can I say… life has gotten in the way.

However, I have not been idle. I have been collecting content and inspirations for a new feature I’d like to introduce on my blog: the Weekly Act of Kindness.

Bad news are all around at the moment. The world we live in seems to become increasingly inward-looking, nationalist, self-centred, doubtful of strangers. World leaders (including democratically elected ones!) are erecting walls to stop “illicit migration flows”, in other words, keeping out people in need, in search for safety or simply a better life. But the fact that they come from different cultural backgrounds automatically makes them suspicious. All of this deeply bothers me, makes me sad, even a bit scared for the future sometimes.

But instead of being gloomy and lamenting the state of the world which seems to be in decline of solidarity and a basic sense of humanity, I thought I’d do something more uplifting and inspiring – because there are also good things out there. Our eyes and mind just need to practice recognizing them. Somebody once said, kindness is like a muscle, the more we exercise it the better we are at it.

So, what is the Weekly Act of Kindness? Each week I’ll present an idea, an initiative or a project – however big or small – which contributes in its own way to making this world a better place. This may sound cheesy to some of you, but aren’t we all in need of good news, of inspiration? Perhaps some of the examples I bring will even inspire you to do something similar, to take action in the context and limits of your own life. This is my hope and motivation anyway.

So, don’t be shy to share this with friends or share your own ideas with me here on this blog. Every contribution counts, even a gesture as small and seemingly insignificant as an uplifting smile or a friendly hello to the person sitting in front of you on the bus on the way to work in the morning.

Weekly Act of Kindness #1 – “Leave a coat” racks

This picture is what actually got me thinking about the Weekly Act of Kindness idea.

Need a coat? Take one. Want to help? Leave one.

This simple yet potentially life saving initiative helps people from poorer households, homeless people, those who cannot afford a proper warm jacket get through winter. I am not sure who and where it started, but the initiative has been replicated across the US and the UK. Simple. Small. Useful. Wonderful.

Stay tuned for more inspirations. What’s yours?

Cultivating empathy – Have you tried meditation yet?

Today I dare you. I dare you to try something unconventional.

One of the basic, underlying principles of intercultural communication is empathy. Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another person. Without this capacity to imagine yourself in somebody else’s shoes, an encounter of people from different cultural backgrounds will not automatically lead to understanding and tolerance.

I have been astounded lately by the lack of empathy and compassion displayed by members of our society towards people who are experiencing terrible things in life – war, loss of loved ones, violence, constant danger, and humiliation. A study conducted at the University of Michigan in 2010 showed that levels of compassion and empathy are lower now than at any time in the past 30 years. Most alarmingly, trends suggest they are declining at an increasing rate, despite globalization and massive improvements in telecommunication. Thanks to television and internet, we are better connected to other people across the globe, but at the same time we care less about their lives and fates.

Only the development of compassion and understanding for others can bring us the tranquility and happiness we all seek. Dalai Lama XIV

In essence, empathy is a cornerstone of a peaceful and tolerant society. Is there a way to restore and cultivate it? Research suggests that meditation in general, and the practice of mindfulness in particular, encourages caring and benevolent behavior toward oneself and others. I found this encouraging and thought, let’s give it a try. I did some research and found this short (10 minutes) guided meditation focusing on cultivating compassion, kindness and forgiveness. It aims at increasing one’s capacity to feel empathy for people who you would not normally relate to, people from different cultural or social backgrounds, complete strangers.

I invite you to try it. It will only take 10 minutes of your time.

What do you think? How do you feel?

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