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Mindful : April 2014
were contagious. Finally we need “compassionate empathy,” in which we not only grasp a person’s predicament and feel along with them but also are spontaneously moved to help. Ekman is adamant that we cannot achieve compassionate empathy without first being capable of cognitive and emotional empathy. That involves both human evolution and how we lead our lives now. Primatologist Frans de Waal puts it succinctly in a n essay titled The Evolution of Empathy: “Empa- thy is not something we only lea rn later in life, or that is culturally constructed. At heart, it is a hard- wired response that we fine-tune and elaborate upon in the course of our lives.” But, says Marga ret Cullen, compassion is also as easy as taking the time to remember “the common humanity of the other person.” Cullen recalls teaching a session of Compassion Cultivation Training in Sydney, Australia, where one of the teachers in the program told a story about a boy in her fourth-grade class who was a real challenge. The teacher said, “We were on the bus coming back from a field trip, and as usual he was driving me crazy. He was all over the place. Typi- cally, I would just give him a stern talking to, but I’d been doing compassion training so I took a different approach. Suddenly, when I looked at him, I remem- bered that he was just a kid.” In the midst of telling this story—which had hap- pened a yea r and a half earlier—the teacher began to cry. She said, “He was just a kid. I saw his humanity. And I had to get in touch with my own humanity before I could see his.” In that moment, the teacher asked the boy, “Why don’t you just put your head on my shoulder?” And when he did, he fell asleep right away. Cullen a lso works with militar y families at Fort Drum in New York and recalls meeting Walter Piatt, the three-star general who helped launch compas- sion training at the base. Cullen asked him if he felt there was room for compassion in the military. “He said compassion is his most powerful weapon. When he was in Afghanistan for the month of Ramadan, he fasted for that month and broke fast with differ- ent tribal leaders every night.” It’s that kind of attempt to understand the other person, to try to experience their world, that is at the root of growing compassion. “ What distinguishes compassion f rom other heart qualities is the acknowledgment of others’ suf- fering,” says Cullen. “That ’s what’s different about it from love.” But like love, the more compassion you have, the more you get. Simple Acts “ Real meaning and true happiness come from think- ing about other people—and from actions that bring mea ning or joy to other peoples’ lives.” In Car ter’s experience, two things happen once you sta rt practicing kindness and compassion. As you begin to do kind things for people, they start reciprocating. And because you’re more conscious of kindness—a nd more obser vant—you start noticing acts of kindness every where. ● April 2014 mindful 59 compassion