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  • Vivian Gutierrez

Exponential Empathy

There is no doubt that it is easier and more comfortable to share a cup of coffee with someone that is familiar. It is great to be able to enjoy a conversation with a person who knows about the nuts and bolts of your surroundings and daily life. There is no need for explanations or details of who is who and why things happen. Life is easier when we surround ourselves with people who think alike. Yet, if we take a different approach to life and open our circle to people who are apparently not so similar to us we can expect to have very interesting and beautiful results.

They say that human beings are tribal, and I am afraid there is no cure for that. However, with a little curiosity of knowing what is outside our tribe, we can expand it and make it as big as we want. We can fit the whole world in it. In Spanish we say that “curiosity killed the cat”, implying we should be careful and fearful of what we are curious about. Nonetheless, I think is good to realize that fear helps by keeping us safe, but most of the time it just stops us from greater knowledge. If we let curiosity guide us into learning about other cultures and ethnicities, into listening to other points of views and perspectives, into trying to understand why people think what they think, eat what they eat, wear what they wear; if we could put ourselves in another person’s shoes, we can only risk losing unconscious biases and limitations of our mind and gain insight into who we really are.

I am pretty sure that in the majority of cases the differences that will bring your curiosity towards that person will prove to be fascinating and you will find yourself sharing more similarities than what you previously thought. It is a great way to improve how you see those who you thought to be different and even be able to add them to your tribe. The best part is that you will start to care, and I mean you will really care; then not only your tribe increases but also your circle of compassion and empathy does as well.

My tribe has become a very curious tribe; at the beginning I wasn't so open to all this changes. However, after living in a few different countries, I have learned the great benefits of cultural curiosity and global awareness. One thing that we have learned, as we experience and meet different people in different cultures, is that the more you do it the easier it gets. It becomes natural to see the similarities in all people and separate them from the rituals and cultures of each community. It doesn't matter if you love chilaquiles or açai, or if you crave pumpkin pie, at the end you are the same human being. I was once asked to describe U.S. women. After imagining my friends back in the U.S., many from different ethnicities and backgrounds, I couldn't give a specific answer other than responding that they are the same as any woman. At the end they worry and care about the same things.

Another fantastic thing that we have perceived in this process is that when you increase your tribe and circle of compassion and empathy, it starts to grow exponentially. You don't even have to live in a country to be able to imagine yourself in there and know that you will become friends with someone, respect their culture, maybe have some differences and then at the end add them to your tribe. You hit a point when your tribe becomes the world, with all its colors, religions, cultures and believes. You do become part of a global tribe and your circle of compassion really expands.

I have three kids that consequently as our tribe has grown, have develop a global awareness and great empathy and compassion toward all beings and I mean animals included. I think there is no greater knowledge for them to achieve. Academic knowledge is of great desire, however there are things that even Einstein considers them to be of more importance. Einstein said that “a human being is a part of the whole called by us Universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature and its beauty”.

The world has become a global community and not extending your circle beyond your family, friends and neighbors can become very limiting and sometimes very dangerous. Prejudice and racism are linked directly to ignorance. And there is no better cure for this than knowledge, knowledge of the other and consequently development of empathy and compassion. Countries where diversity is common, have the greatest opportunity to be the perfect place to practice how to expand your tribe and circle of compassion, fight ignorance and racism without the need to move or travel. Yes traveling is great, but if you can find people from all over the world in your own communities, why not take this opportunities while you have them? Sometimes, it seems that the places with the greatest opportunities for expansion and knowledge, are the places where people end dividing themselves even more.

As we prepare to move again, we cherish the benefits of our experiences. And we recognize that the possibilities of learning and expanding are innumerable. I believe that empathy and compassion grow exponentially after a certain point, is what I call Exponential Empathy. It may require some slight effort at the beginning, nevertheless I assure you that when you are already on board life becomes a majestic adventure you share with the entire world. Join the global community! Enjoy it and share it with your kids, it is the greatest gift you can give them after all.

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