how to grow love in your life & community art & words by Dana Simson 1
. spread empathy each day . This is my effort to combat a deepening culture of anger, mistrust, arrogance and short sighted actions based in ego, greed and power to benefit a few rather than the many. Integrity has been eroded by opportunism. The idea of â&#x20AC;&#x153;Usâ&#x20AC;? now reflects various groups rather than everyone. This societal change has been festering for many years, forming an uncomfortable dark-minded normal. Empathy starts with each of us offering the light of consideration in our actions. It is my hope that this little book may act as a positve tool in the meditation of an open heart and listening mind. Thank you friends! copyright 2020 . www.danasimson.com . all rights reserved 3
live in peace
will live in you 4
k i n d n e s s
c o n n e c t s
The first person that deserves your empathy is you.
Empathy flows out like a river of good energy.
In relationships you get what you give. We used to have a rooster that my daughter and I would pick up and cuddle, stroking his head. Roosie would coo adoringly, loving us back with little rooster songs. My husband and son were not fond of this rooster and Roosie knew it. They could not get from the house to the car without a golf club to fend him off.
love is symmetrical 7
The deepest principle in human nature
is the craving to be appreciated. â&#x20AC;&#x201C;William James 8
A c k n o w l e d g e m e n t
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is a powerful way to strengthen relationships and increase fulfillment in life. The power of acknowledgement is vast and easy to set in motion. We all work hard toward what we need or want to achieve. Some days it is easy to feel under-appreciated and depressed. Take a mental step back and look at those around you- family members, coworkers, friends or complete strangers; each with their individual mountain to climb. An unsolicited word of acknowledgement may lighten the weight of their steps forward. You may feel lifted as well. A woman asked the clerk to speak to the store manager, who came out looking apprehensive. â&#x20AC;&#x153;I wanted to tell you what a great job your employee did!â&#x20AC;? she said pointing to a beaming young woman. A gift of positive energy shift! 9
Years ago, I was talking to a friend’s 85 year old mother in the kitchen while we prepared a salad. The other guests had wandered out to sit by the fireplace. Sally said, “My husband and I used to have wonderful dinner parties. He was a professor.” Then her face clouded and she grew silent. “Tell me about him, what did he teach?” I ventured unsure if I should ask. Sally looked surprised, but began to recount their life together. I asked more questions as she grew more animated and pleased to share her stories. Then the salad was done and dinner was on. Sally took my hand, “Thank you so much for asking about Ken, no one ever asks about him any more.” When you lose someone so special and integral to your life one way to reconnect with them is to recall them to others. Many people are afraid to speak of loved ones who have passed, worried they may upset those left behind. But shared stories can be a shared celebration, a release of frustration, or simply a way to connect. Everyone’s story is epic. 10
Stories shared are like verbal hugs. Listening to another is a gift of deep empathy. 11
“I am reminded of a story told by Ram Dass (a spiritual teacher) A large, angry, drunk man burst into a subway car crowded with people returning from work. He lurched around bullying passengers that shrank away in fear and disgust. Finally he lumbered into a seat hastily vacated by several people. Ram Dass rose and sat down beside him. “How are you doing” He asked in a pleasant tone. The man frowned at him leaning in suspiciously, “Whatdaya mean?” he slurred. “I mean how was your day?” repeated the much smaller Dass. Somehow in engaging the hostile man in a neutral but nurturing way the man’s demeanor softened and they began to talk. Before long the large man was sobbing while Ram Dass listened, patting on his heaving back sympathetically. The subway car rolled on, angry aggression addressed simply by the courage to care. 12
“Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It is a relationship between equals. Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity.” — Pema Chödrön
p a r e n t i n g t h r o u g h e m p a t h y Take time to try and recall how you felt as a child in certain situations. Next, work to apply this mindfulness to your parenting practice. Learning good parenting is a life long journey with room for success as well as failure. It is tough to be a parent. I find myself constantly trying to recall how I felt at certain ages, so I might be helpful, but not offend. Most times it may be easier to not speak up, however usually it is important and loving to do so. “The parenting police will get me if I don’t call you on this behavior!” I explain. It won’t make for a happy “MOMent” but I would not be doing my job if I remain silent. Empathy when parenting requires forgetting ego. Figure out how to teach the lesson not force it. I used to try and out argue my Dad. His reply would be because I SAY SO. At the time this only made me think there was little logic behind his decision. 14
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If I am feeling close to falling into an abyss, one way to right myself is to ponder the human predicament. That we all do as well as we do is exemplary considering there is no master plan for tackling what life throws at us. Each of us is bumbling along as best we can with what we have to get to where we think we want to go. Instant Empathy for the masses! Empathy for you empathy for me. We are all in this together friends. Learn from a tumble, get up and move on. Failures are notches in the walking stick of progress. Humor is always a good tool keep in your pocket. 17
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There is a space within each of us that is a direct channel to reverence. It is easy to become buried beneath our toxic schedules or the daily din of everything. Slowing yourself to a quiet space will bring small wonderful things into focus. Yes! It is the whole â&#x20AC;&#x153;stop and smell the rosesâ&#x20AC;? thing. But beyond that it is an awareness of a greater, more precious world. In embracing nature color returns to our lives along with the opportunity to share this deep gift with others. o p e n
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I was standing in line at the grocery behind a man with two cartons of Lime Sherbet. We were joking about this when it occurred to both of us that we had been standing there a very long time without moving forward. At the head of the line a thin elderly woman, cast about in her purse while the cashier looked frustrated. It was clear the woman didn’t have enough money for what she wished to buy. The sherbet man was a quick draw and beat me to whipping out his credit card; quietly suggesting to the cashier, ”Here, just put it on this.” No big fanfare - no hero flag -just stepping up to assist. I felt heartened as a bystander. To give is to get more. A chance to help someone or something is a huge gift to your deepest self. The one you want to be. s
Empathy & Imagination
The super hero tool to build deep empathy is imagination. When I would speak at schools as a visiting author/illustrator I always started out with a story. Feeling and understanding the path of another is like being invited into a journey parallel to yours. I would speak in pictures. The childrenâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s up-turned faces reflected my story as it played in their minds. 22
here is the story: When I was 12 years old, we lived in a red brick house in Elmira, New York. It was a nice neighborhood with friends to play with and a big hill at the end of the street between us and the Chemung River. This was a dike, a steep hill built there to protect our street from flooding if the river should rise. It was about 20 feet high with a thin dirt road on top the bigger kids would ride their minibikes on. We loved the dike for box sledding on the near vertical grassy slopes during summer and snow sledding in winter. Just before school closed for summer vacation in 1972 Hurricane Agnes roared up the Mid-Atlantic with days of intense wind and rain. The river turned an angry mud color rising to thrash through the forests that lined it, stealing up trees by their roots and whisking them away. Our family and neighbors climbed the dike to see fences, furniture and even the roofs of houses rushing by. We watched as the water ticked higher getting closer to the top of the dike. 23
In the middle of the night, police awakened our neighborhood with flashing lights and bull horns, telling everyone to get up and get out NOW! We quickly dressed, hurrying around wondering what to take. I remember the dark pavement sinking under each step like walking on a water balloon. Everyone was told to go to Elmira College where we sat in little groups on the glossy floor in the brightly lit gymnasium. My sister and I were told to stay together while our mom and dad took my little brother and went in search of any news of what was happening to our home. Pam and I sat close together feeling small and frightened. Then a big man appeared in front of us. It was old Gaylord Jones, wet with rain in a big trench coat. He greeted us with a grand smile of flashing white teeth and sparkling eyes. 24
Back then white and black people were trying to learn respect and trust for one another. Our parents had “home dialogues;” dinners where people from all races gathered in each other’s homes and ate together. Gaylord loomed over us, rain glistening in his wild hair. “What chu think I got in my coat?” he teased. Our eyes grew wide wondering. He repeated, “WHAT CHU THINK I GOT IN MA COAT?” At this point I stop and I address the children whose eyes are riveted, their imaginations spinning. “What do you think Gaylord had in his coat?” I ask. Hands shoot up. Possibilities are offered! They feel the story. They are within it now. I become Mr. Gaylord Jones rolling my shoulders down, towering forward, friendly but full of mischief. 25
Slowly I draw one side of my imaginary coat open. “What did he have?” I ask eyebrows raised. The kids squirm with excitement and wonder. I cup my hand as if around a tiny head. “Meow,” I say. The children explode, ”a kitten!” “Oh no,” I say, ”Not a kitten- THREE tiny kittens!” Then Mr Gaylord Jones sat his soggy old self down on the floor with us pouring those kittens into our arms. He stayed with my sister and I letting us hold and snuggle those kittens until our parents came back. So my memory of this dark scary flood is always wrapped in a warm fuzzy feeling remembering the kindness of dear Mr Gaylord Jones and the three kittens (and two little girls) he rescued. 26
When you invite anotherâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s story into your imagination, you will gain a deeper understanding of them from your heart.
When young activist Heather Heyer was killed in Charlottesville, Virginia by a neo nazi driving his car into a crowd of counter protesters, her mother and father led by example. Instead of turning inward with grief, they opened their hearts in forgiveness and deep empathy inspiring reflection and positive action in the wake of losing their daughter. “I want her death to be a rallying cry for justice... You need to find in your heart that small spark of accountability. ‘What is there I can do to make the world a better place?” Susan Bro, Heather Heyer’s mother.
In reaction to Charlottesville and other Alt-right marches, hundreds more protested peacefully across the country. We talk about fixing racism, bigotry and countering ugly judgments some make against those they consider different. Words and more words. Could all this chatter add to a culture of separation? Deeds, not words will build for positive change. 28
this little light of mine . Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;m gonna let it shine
Be the change you wish to see. 29
the oneness of we
What can we agree upon? That all living things are lit up by a soul riding within a body. This essence of self, aware with feeling and thought, drives the body-machine we are given. Our bodies vary in color, size, ethnicity, and appearance. There is an inside us and an outside us. Even though each inside us is the pure energy of life, we get hung up on our outside selves. We feel most comfortable with people like us. This may stem from a deep instinct for survival that kicked in when an unknown element confronted our earliest ancestors. Such behavior would be prudent and could keep your outside self from becoming someoneâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s dinner. As civilized animals we can connect on an intellectual level as our inside selves recognize someone of interest. When we can connect with each other as kindred living souls the mental walls dividing us will disappear. 31
In the earliest communities, the group worked for the benefit of the entire tribe. Food and wealth were shared equally. Weaker people were not cast aside. If one warrior said, - â&#x20AC;&#x153;Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;m keeping all this buffalo meat for me because I did most of the work,â&#x20AC;? the rest of the tribe would think he had lost his mind.
Somehow we have evolved from we to me. Each child is raised to excel so they will be entitled to more. Having more has become the basis for perceived success and respect from others. This automatically makes some people feel less valuable and others self important. To justify walking by a homeless person with disdain, we either discount him entirely or judge him to be a problem. If the weak of a community are further beaten down how can they ever get up? When we can learn to see beyond the body into the soul of another, we will find real peace together. 32
True empathy requires you step beyond
your emotions and ego to see the world entirely from anotherâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s perspective.
On a trip to Washington DC when our children were small, I noticed an elderly woman bent over and struggling with a heavy bag at the curb side. Cars and buses whizzed by in front of her. “I’ll help this nice lady across the street,” I announced confidently, pleased for the opportunity to teach the kids a nice lesson about helping. My husband hung back, holding their hands, waiting. “Hello there, may I help you across the street?” The woman turned and scowled at me. “Certainly not! I am quite capable of getting across a street.” I backed away somewhat mortified and returned to my family. My husband cocked his head, equally amused and puzzled. “Well, what happened there?” I shrugged. “I guess I learned a lesson.” 35
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My friend Almoud ran a Jordanian cafe in our transitional neighborhood. Occasionally a more challenging passerby might come in requiring some quick thinking. One of the Walkers; people who keep their mental demons away by constant walking, came up to the cafe counter. He blocked other customers while harassing the young waitress. Al stepped up, quietly directing her to another task. â&#x20AC;&#x153;Hello, did you want to order something?â&#x20AC;? This man always carried a long bamboo stick and walked at a furious pace from one end of town to the other. He reacted aggressively cursing loudly, while Al remained calm. After a while the bamboo stick walker left, yelling and waving his big stick. He glared back in through the front window before finally leaving. The next day he was back unnerving everyone in the cafe. Al realized he had to find a solution to defuse this angry person who continued to come by making ugly faces outside the cafe window. 36
One day Al gathered his courage and went outside to speak with the angry man with his bamboo pole. “ You do alot of walking,” he said to him. “I’m looking for a job,” The man barked back. Al gestured to all the leaves and street garbage blown in under his cafe tables and chairs on the sidewalk. “How much do you want to sweep this up?” “10 dollars,” Mr Bamboo stick answered civily. “I’ll pay you twenty.” Al handed him a broom and dust pan and headed back inside. The sidewalk was spotless when the man was done. Al said,” You can come and do that every few weeks.” But the bamboo stick walker never came back, because Al was no longer an issue for him. Empathy requires both head and heart, Heart to feel compassion, intellect to deliver it in a positive way. 37
As a college professor at Salisbury University, I offered aspiring teachers ways to integrate imagination into their curriculum. In exploring body language and reactions to it, I employed a wonderful exercise that never ceased to amaze everyone involved. All the students were asked to stand in a long line. Each would recieve an action from whomever was in front of them, turn and pass another action on to the next student. Whatever action you feel. I began by hugging the first student in line, who turned and shook the hand of the next person. The actions went on, changing to playful, then teasing, growing increasingly aggressive with each action. An uneasy feeling developed until the final student turned and hugged the person next to him. The whole class seemed to exhale, laughing and exclaiming together. Action=reaction 38
Empathy & Imagination
At the end of a Friday, the third week in of a new school year, a friend of mine came into our store. “I need to be in a positive place,” she moaned, “this week has been so stressful.” She mentors new teachers in our school district. “There is one young woman who is especially difficult, with a heart of gold really, but I have to talk to her tomorrow and I don’t want to crush her.” She mentioned a few of this teacher’s issues including the sexy way she dressed. I was writing this book, so the concept of imagination and empathy was at the front of my mind. When you speak to someone directly about things they are doing wrong, it feels like an assault.This might make the person feel angry or defensive. If a subordinate is being corrected by someone in a position of authority they may lose confidence. This might create animosity toward a mentor potentially offering important advice for their advancement. 41
“Maybe ask this young teacher to imagine herself as one of the middle school boys in her class. Imagine that your pretty teacher is wearing tight pants, a short lacey top and high heels. Could you feel that a young man in this class might have trouble concentrating?” The teacher will not feel your comments head on, because she is in the position of a male student. Hopefully she can hear and take in your advice without defensive baggage cluttering her understanding. My friend smiled, “Maybe I was just supposed to come here so we could talk.” 42
I gave her a hug, â&#x20AC;&#x153;You have helped me as well, to think about empathy in offering direction to others. It is a mindset beyond something we might normally do. That new teacher is so fortunate to have someone willing to guide them with 20 plus years of experience. Think of your words as a gift- which they are, not a reprimand.â&#x20AC;&#x153; Empathy in our daily interactions will ease anxiety for everyone. This lovely friend took time to write a Thank You card to me saying her meeting went well. As I held the card in my hand I felt great joy. It is up on my bulletin board offering me encouragement and appreciation at a glance. 43
A taste of empathy
Food nourishes the body, love nourishes the soul. When a new neighbor moved into a neighborhood, community members would take over a basket of food and introduce themselves. Somehow this practice has gone the way of whitewall tires and croquette. Families barely take time to sit down and eat together each evening. The sharing of food is an offering of peace and community. We frequently had neighborhood dinners of whoever was around when we first married. It was wonderful having a kitchen full of lively talk as dinner got whipped together. Later when our kids were in the mix, this happened less often, but if I was making a big pot of something we would walk some across the street to our elderly neighbors or someone who was stretched thin on time or money. 45
Now as “empty-nesters” we have returned to an early tradition that was a favorite of mine: “Orphans Thanksgiving.” Whoever is around shows up with a dish. If a friend knows of someone new to the area or at loose ends that day- they get invited too. We had hosted this for many years until my Dad put his foot down; “Who are all these people?!! This should be a “family gathering!” Those family dinners were wonderful too, and all our relations still have a place at the table. But the truest Thanksgiving I recall brought together family, friends, neighbors and a group of new Chinese immigrants; women who worked with my sister- in-law at a restaurant. The menu included local wild turkey, geese and smoked duck courtesy of our hunter neighbor, spinach pie, hummus, egg rolls, mashed potatoes,(of course!), a country ham, vegetarian fare, Pies and so much more. One of the guests exclaimed in her limited english; “this is my first real Thanksgiving!“ 46
As we looked around the diverse table we all agreed, Yes, this is a real Thanksgiving.
Thankful for traditions:
The ritual of holding hands before eating allowing each person the opportunity to say what they are thankful for is a powerful tradition we love to continue each year. Even those that grimace at being put on the spot are happy to share in the end. 47
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Sometimes I watch my mom at family gatherings. She is an increasingly frail 85 years old. Age is slowly folding her up smaller and smaller to steal away in time. Her strong voice is a wisp of what it was and now fog clouds her hearing. Mom is vibrant when she has the floor, but usually she is a quiet space beneath the din created by 3 generations of her offspring. If I slow myself down to engage her directly through the wash of conversation she is pleased to pipe up, and others will focus on her as well. But soon the rabble is back of louder, younger voices and she returns to sitting patiently, seemingly satisfied in finding pleasure in merely being with her family. I wonder if I will be as gracious when I am in her position. 48
As my mom always said, treat others how you would wish to be treated yourself. 49
In more traditional cultures, the elders hold court, revered at the table. Grandparents and their offspring are given a mutual gift through this relationship.Taking time to visit, listen to family stories, ask advice and kick in to help older relatives becomes highly treasured. During teen years when a parent-teen relationship may be turbulent a grandparent can offer much needed alternative support. This rapport has lessened here in western cultures where our focus tends to be on the young. We live in a fast culture of â&#x20AC;&#x153;whatâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s next.â&#x20AC;? Old people are slow. They are shut in and removed from the main stream, requiring visitors to fit in time to go see them. A visit to a grandparent may seem like a chore unless the young person approaches the relationship as precious time to discover each other in a new light. Those that do take time to develop a special relationship with an older person, related or not, find that it brings deep joy during moments together and memories that last a lifetime. 50
I am reminded of a Nordic folktale that has always stayed with me. One day a boy was asked by his father to pull his grandfather out into the forest on a long sled. The old man was near death and this was a tradition. The grandfather was loaded on and some blankets were tucked around him. Then the boy began the long haul out to the big woods. On the way they talked a little about the wonderful things the boy might do with his life and the grandfather told a few stories about his. When they got to the spot in the forest where the boy was to leave the grandfather, he turned to leave for home. The old man cried out, “Wait, aren’t you going to take the sled?” The boy froze in his tracks mystified. “Why would I do that?” he called back through the snowy trees. The old man sat up and pointed to the boy, “ So your grandson will have a sled to pull you into the woods one day.” The boy returned home with both the sled and grandfather. 51
Many birds One Tree while each song is beautiful together we are a symphony.
“Nothing ever goes away until it has taught us what we need to know.” Pema Chödrön 54
Empathy in a cruel world A man killed 58 people and wounded over 500 more by shooting out of his 32nd floor Las Vegas hotel room into the crowd below attending a country music festival. One can only listen to news like this with absolute bewilderment, heart wrenching disgust and a sense of absurd helplessness following such a heinous, selfish action. If we donâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t listen to the news, as difficult as that is, the hardships others are facing have no sympathetic ear. This daily pipeline of injustice and suffering feels depressingly numbing. I believe we are increasingly filled with a base level of anxiety. This can manifest itself in choosing to ignore any news not directly affecting ourselves. A defensive posture of this nature allows evil to roll on undeterred. We can be small soldiers of love. Our weapons might be phone calls to congress, a donation to charity or focus on doing kind actions for those around us. Ultimately if the world learns to listen and empathize, cruelty might be deadened. If we yearn for good news, perhaps we must create it. 55
empathy skills Two of my oldest friends, Randy and Bobbie trained as photographers during their college years, but ran a wonderful nursery operation together during their careers. Our garden became beautiful with rejected plants from their compost pile! While neither of them are capable of taking bad photo, now retired, Randy has immersed himself in his passion once more, but with an empathic twist. For the last 4 years he has photographed sporting events at a small local HBCU college. He catches spectacular shots of not only the high powered, crowd pleasers like basketball but also smaller tournaments like bowling and girls volleyball. Randy enjoys getting to know individual team members and is happy to supply them with magazine quality photos showing them in action. “It builds their self-esteem,” he told me,” and I love doing it!” He spends hours taking then adjusting the photos before putting them online for team members to download. By using his talent; giving his time and energy freely, Randy remains relevant. His photos give both ways. 56
Bobbie is a mother nature in the truest sense. The first time I met her, I was startled to see what appeared to be a small tail dangle down from her curly hair. “OH it’s a baby opossum,” She explained off handedly, “their mother was run over.” She gently removed the baby from her hair and handed it to me. “They cling to their Mother’s hair.” I marveled at its tiny pink hands grasping the air, then held the little possom near my hair so it could climb in. Bobbie and I became fast friends over tea. During decades of friendship she has rescued thousands of animals and birds, feeding new hatchlings through long nights and finding crippled survivors a home at zoos, refuges or back in the wild. Her dedication is all encompassing. One winged pigeons, recovering rabbits and generations of healed patients wander Bobbie and Randy’s property. There is a gentle feeling of love and nurture there. The giving energy of empathy. 57
Bobbie is just as nurturing to people. When a friend of ours was going into hospice she managed to get into the room ahead of time to fill it with living winter pansies, mums and other beautiful blooms from their nursery. Randy tells me that recently Bobbie provided some little â&#x20AC;&#x153;pick you upâ&#x20AC;? treat everyday for the 100 days to a dear friend of hers enduring chemotherapy. Whether tending to plants, animals or young athletes, these two nurturers live empathy. It is a natural part of who they are. I wish I could bottle this gentle resolve so we could all have a spoonful. Life would be sweeter for everyone. 59
“If you judge people, you have no time to love them.” –Mother Teresa
p u n k
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A disoriented woman who had been a problem before pushed a big stroller full of stuff and a toddler into our store. There were other customers present and my first reaction was “Ugh, this person is going to waste my time again and make my other customers uncomfortable.” She began picking up handmade ceramic and putting it in the stroller. I have learned that when I treat everyone with respect things go far better. “Oh, do you like that? That one is $24.00.” The woman froze with horror clutching a vase. “I didn’t know that, I didn’t know that.” She put it back and snatched up a mug. Our exchange was repeated as she did this over and over with various things while the other customers regarded her warily. Finally I said, “This is a store and everything here costs money so I can stay open.” By this time my inner self was getting increasingly annoyed, focused on how I might get her out the door. The toddler struggled to get loose from whatever held him in the stroller. A potential bull in my real chinashop. 62
It dawned on me that the toddler looked well kept, and other than her confusion the woman was really just appreciating things I had made. She was operating at her level, somehow I needed to meet that. Finally she pointed to a box of little bottle stoppers on the bottom of a shelf. Again I told her the price but added.” Thank you for enjoying my work.” She clapped her hands together and smiled, “OK, ok I’ll get one next time.” “That would be great.” I opened the door for her. “It sure is a lovely day out there.” The door closed behind her and that was that. As I watched her push the bulky stroller by our front windows I felt her isolation. Sometimes I have just given people things if it will not insult them or make them return the next day for more. But all she needed was a little respect. She may return again and I will do the same next time. 63
The color of love We are space travelers on ship Earth. Our drifting souls full of wonder and hope, are each zipped into a fragile skin. How can this thin film divide us sowhen color is a thing of true beauty.
Our world is how we see it. You may see from a you centered vantage point or you may see you in a larger context; One of many. This way it is easier to feel that we share this planet and all her gifts. That living in empathy for the other means the same may be offered to you as well.