Alice. Self-Portrait. 2014
“Relativity is the absence of standards of absolute and universal application.” In other words, relativity is about seeing something from one perspective or another, without looking at the actual facts.
Often times we are confused and see the world through our own narrow or foggy lens.
How often do you believe a story instead of taking a look at the real facts?
Maybe its even your own story that you’ve compiled based on your perspective and feelings.
I’ve recently learned that I do this when I find myself in a conflict in which I’m emotionally involved. I’m learning that I have the power to remove my perspective from the situation and only look at the facts. I have the power create a new story in my mind that doesn’t involve villainizing or validating, but simply recognizing that we are all humans with feelings, needs, and desires. With this new story, I can see this other person as reacting from their own needs and not intentionally trying to harm me.
Empathy is about seeing a shadow of another person in ourselves. Many of us have heard the phrase "to walk around in someone else's shoes or moccasins. It can go even deeper than that with Harper Lee's statement in To Kill a Mockingbird, “You never really know a man until you understand things from his point of view, until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” Of course, we are referring to mankind and not just man or woman. Do you take the time to climb into someone else's skin?
Empathy and Van Gogh's paintings of shoes.
Where is the empathy for humankind when we create a story to defend ourselves? We tell ourselves, “I’m right, he’s wrong.” I’m the hero, he’s the enemy." We do this in many different scenarios, from wars between countries, conflicts between co-workers, traffic frustrations, and even minor disagreements in relationships.
In today's self-centered world, it seems that many have forgotten that not only are you, as an individual, on a pursuit of happiness, but everyone else is as well.
So, instead of being blinded by the differences that superficially separate you from another person, a good place to start is to try to acknowledge the commonalities that you share with this person.
The first limb of yoga is Nama. It consists of guidelines for how we treat others. One part of this Nama is Satya, meaning commitment to truthfulness.
Satya means "to speak the truth," yet it is not always desirable to speak the truth on all occasions, for it could harm someone unnecessarily. We have to consider what we say, how we say it, and in what way it could affect others. If speaking the truth has negative consequences for another, then it is better to say nothing. Satya should never come into conflict with our efforts to behave with ahimsa.
Ahimsa is another part of Nama which means compassion for all living things. It means kindness, friendliness, and thoughtful consideration of other people. Ahimsa implies that in every situation we should adopt a considerate attitude and do no harm.
This precept is based on the understanding that honest communication and action form the bedrock of any healthy relationship, community, or government, and that deliberate deception, exaggerations, and mistruths harm others.
Berlin is known as a city that underwent a huge social experiment. During this past century, it was divided into many parts starting with East and West Berlin. War, racism, political beliefs, and economics have been the dividing factors, making enemies and heroes out of individuals and groups of people.
After the harmful destruction and many deaths in WWII, Germany, and Berlin itself (the capital of Germany) were divided into two sections. Half was for the USSR, who suffered the most from Hitler's insanity, and the rest for England, France, and the U.S. who also fought back in the war. From 1945 to 1961, young, strong, educated, and aspiring individuals were escaping East Berlin for more opportunity in West Berlin. The leaders of the German Democratic Republic (a nice way to say Communist East Berlin) noticed that they were losing a valuable part of their society, so at 4am on August 13th, 1961, the border became lined with barbed wire and armed guards to attempt to put an end to this possibility of escaping. Suddenly, relationships with family, friends, and lovers were severed in half. Months later the stone walls replaced the barbed wire and guards were ordered to control this "dead man's zone" by stopping anyone who tried to escape. Although the order was made to stop East Berliners from escaping, awards and promotions were giving to the snipers who actually killed escapees. The goal of these actions was to control the people by instilling and developing fear, the opposite of confidence and contentment.
The wall has been down since 1989, a fact that came with some fascinating stories.
There have been efforts to reunite the city. Have the perspectives been restored?
Today, 35% of previous East Berliners believe that life was simpler in East Berlin when the wall was up and they were controlled by the GDR. Berliners refer to this nostalgic philosophy as fogged up glasses. They are simply noting that there was little competition in the GDR times. No drive to keep up with the Joneses. In contrast, they would have to wait in line for hours for very simple delicacies like a banana or pineapple, which only came around every few months. Do you think it would be difficult to adjust to world of competition after being handed a steady job and income for decades?
Further, 75% of those that lived in West Berlin before the wall came down believe that life was better back then because now they have to pay a 5% income tax to rebuild East Berlin. They feel that they are losing some of their freedom and hard earned money from capitalism. Is this an attitude of empathy?
Are both perspectives being recognized by the other side?
Politics in Berlin today are still an area for controversy. I had the interesting experience of going on three different tours of Berlin to hear stories from many different angles. Stories about life on the East and life on the West. Stories about politicians and murders. Stories about the formation of the city and architecture.
Similar to yoga asana practice, Berlin is working on aligning its parts (neighborhoods and different political viewpoints) into one cohesive whole, just like the parts of your body working together to hold a pose.
The fact here is that there was a wall running through the middle of an established city. The way of life changed for each side. Now that the wall has been removed, there is change all over the city again. People choose to feel happy or frustrated with these changes. The important thing to remember is why. They each have a story. They can each choose to overcome it, listen to the other side, and to seek and find the truth, satya, in the facts while behaving towards the others with ahimsa, kindness and understanding.
How can we seek to be happy and also care about the rest of humanity?
We have our own desires, values, and principles either because they were handed down to us by our culture, nation, religion, or family, or because we have taken the time to think deeply about our own experiences and the experiences of others.
How can we empathize with the other side?
Personally, I like to start by reading and traveling to take a deeper look into cultures and individuals perspectives. Through conversation I also seek to understand the past, present, and future goals of other individuals without judgement.
Why are you here?
Where have you come from?
Where are you going?
We have all had time of confusion in our lives, in which we did not see clearly, through fogged up glasses.
Can you feel that warmth of understanding and clarity when you pause to see things in a new way?
Yoga helps :)