Our fingerprints and faces tell us we are each “sui generis,” (one-of-a-kind), although most of us were raised to conform to, and plug into, a social structure, rather than encouraged to discover and display our distinctive gifts.
I often imagine a world of people brought up to shine as one-of-a-kind, creative expressions of humanity and wonder what such a world would be like. Each child would be approached with utter curiosity and a sense of reverence for the unforeseen gifts they might bring to both family and society. Their sui generis idiosyncracies would be nurtured by parents, teachers, leaders and the culture at large.
Would this approach help to bring about whole and fulfilled people, people who feel unashamed, confident, and appreciated for who they truly are?
Most kids have jumping-for-joy natures, abounding life energies and strong emotions. Yet, their unusual thoughts and insights, self-love, love of pleasure and of life are considered, at best, adorable in the cute way, rather than the worthy-of-adoration way. They are asked, in so many instances, to conform to what’s expected of them, to apply themselves to finding their place (a.s.a.p.!) in existing models, roles and societal structures, rather than to engender new systems and create new forms.
We may, in fact, be asking children to thwart their natural love of life to better fit into a system that is stressful, unhealthy and inhumane. Young people, whose heart-intelligence and innate compassion are still very much in tact, are one day treated to a movie about how sweet and wonderful penguins are and the next day informed of the destruction of the penguin habitat due to human profligacy. What tools do we provide them for dealing with their feelings about such ironies and inconsistencies?
When children object to societal emotional confusion, in their immature sui generis way, their rebellions are often attacked, shamed, undermined. I recently witnessed a young boy of about seven with his mother in front of a fish counter at Whole Foods. I saw him looking up at her and overheard her say, dismissively, unwilling to look down to meet his eyes, "There are plenty of fish in the sea, Johnny; it’s perfectly fine for us to eat them."
The point is not the fish here, the point is this boy’s heart and how his mother responded to his heart’s cry. And we wonder how the steep rise of childhood mental health disorders, and all the consequences associated with them, could be happening in such a wonderful place as the suburbs of the United States!
The erroneously attributed Chinese dish named Chop Suey is a bland, overcooked, and unpalatable dish of cheap, canned vegetables and water chestnuts held together with corn starch, invented in America and passed off as Chinese.
Do American adults turn their children into Chop Sui, while worrying that the Chinese are taking away their opportunities and wealth, spoiling their American Dream?! Would the children, if they knew what the choices were in our world, even choose the values of the American Dream?
The futurist author Daniel Pink details Six Senses needed in the coming generations in his book, A Whole New Mind: Why Right Brainers Will Rule the Future. These senses are Design, Story, Symphony, Empathy, Play, and Meaning. I believe Empathy is the most important one of these senses to encourage and develop in the lives of children. Empathy is the ability to feel what another is feeling, to really meet other people and other creatures where they live, so to speak. Just imagine what a world this would be if empathy were an aptitude highly developed and prized in society at large, right from the way children are conceived, carried and birthed!
Imagine how that value of tenderness and care would naturally change the nature and aptitudes of their imaginations and contribute to the sensitivities of their other senses. And extend this imagining to how the products and services that drive the economy would also, organically, change in response to increased and concerted empathy in mass culture.
Imagine how a robust sense of empathy would influence the questions each individual would be asking about society; such as: Just what are we putting ourselves in service to? Are our enterprises honest and caring? How are we making and interpreting meaning in our educational and media presentations? How are we putting all the informational pieces of our society together? What are our fundamental narratives about? What are we designing and for what purposes?
In the presence of pervasive and abiding empathy, all our activities are in service to a healthier, more integrated way of life. And, I might dare to add, true empathy is what makes it possible for the sui generis nature of each face, each individual, each living thing, to truly shine and be held dear.
©2008 Jari Chevalier
Jari- I continue to love your writing and expression of ideas. Peace-Abby
If a person can’t find empathy, would respect do?
Respect is certainly preferable to disrespect and disdain. Respect also has more of a genuine quality to it than mere tolerance. But whether we’re talking about parent-child/family relationships, work-place relationships, or community relationships, people can sense the differences among respect, tolerance, hatred and real empathy. We all read each other pretty well on an energetic level, because our facial expressions, tone of voice, eye movements and body language say things about who we are and what we’re feeling or not feeling, which other people subliminally pick up. Without thinking about it, they “grok” where we’re coming from. Empathy is the ideal. Empathy makes all the difference in the world: hearts open, tears flow, amends are made, a new spirit enters. If a person can’t find empathy, that person has been badly injured and stunted in their basic human development, and I understand this accounts for vast numbers of people. And the ones who need to work on this in themselves the most are the ones most resistant. What are ya gonna do?